It may seem a bit precocious to start reading aloud to your infant before they can even say “Dadda.” New research suggests that doing so can greatly boost your children's vocabulary and literacy years into their future.
"These findings are exciting because they suggest that reading to young children, beginning even in early infancy, has a lasting effect on language, literacy, and early reading skills," said Carolyn Cates, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine. "What they're learning when you read with them as infants still has an effect four years later when they're about to begin elementary school."
The findings of Cates' study (as yet unpublished) were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco on May 8, 2017. Researchers in the study followed 250 mother-baby pairs recruited from an urban hospital. The children were monitored for vocabulary comprehension as well as early literacy and writing skills from six months to four-and-a-half years of age.
Parents reported at six, 14, and 24 months how often they read to their babies as well as how many books were in the home, demonstrating the quantity of shared book reading. They also reported on the quality of the reading. Indicators of quality included talking about the content of the book with the child, pointing to the pictures, discussing emotions and characters in the story, and overall age-appropriateness of stories.
The researchers adjusted for socioeconomic differences and found that both quality and quantity of book sharing during infancy and early toddler years had a great impact on literacy skills as the children entered kindergarten.
Book reading quantity and quality during infancy (starting at 6 months) predicted early literacy and increased vocabulary at four years, with quality proving more influential than quantity. For toddlers, both quantity and quality of book reading predicted early reading, name writing, increased vocabulary, and beginning sound awareness.
Early book sharing not only affects literacy and academic success in school-aged children, but can also have longer lasting effects: Poor reading skills in adults have been linked to decreased economic potential, the perpetuation of poverty cycles, poor health, and dependency throughout the course of adulthood.
A 2011-2012 survey found that less than half of children ages zero to five are read to daily by a family member. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages pediatricians across the nation to implement programs to promote early literacy with all the families they work with.
If you want to increase book sharing in your home, consider making reading part of your routine – whether it's in the morning, at nap time, or bed time. Read together when you're not rushed so you can take time pointing out pictures, talking about characters, etc.
If you have an infant in the home, take advantage of the daily feeding hours to read aloud to her while she eats. Increasing both the quantity and quality of book sharing in your home will have a lasting positive impact on your children.
And next time your toddler requests that "favorite" book for the third time in one day, remember that you're paving the way for his future success.