Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, is a Board Certified Pediatrician who practices in Palm Beach County, Florida.
At around 7 months old, books are a great toy for your baby. But when you’re reading to your baby, does what you read matter? Is there anything you can do around this age to develop your child’s language and reading skills? Dr. Sara Connolly discusses the best things you can do for your infant when it comes to reading.
Bundoo: You’re a big proponent of reading to your kids, beginning at a very young age. Is there data showing real benefits of reading to kids who are 6 or 7 months old? What benefits does it have?
Dr. Sara Connolly: Yes! In pediatrics, we like to follow data-based recommendations whenever they exist, and reading to children beginning in infancy has a data-proven track record. Reading to children and its subsequent relationship to literacy has been well studied in the United States, and we can say for certain that reading to children increases vocabulary, phonological awareness, understanding of print as a representation of language, syntax, grammar, and the concept that a story contains a beginning, middle, and end.
Reading aloud to children exposes them to more and more varied words than we use in spoken language each day. These words add up, with an often quoted statistic that infants and young children who are read to on a daily basis beginning early in life will have heard 30 million more words than children who have been spoken to, but not read to by age 4! That is a ton of words. When you are talking school and reading readiness, that translates to improved vocabulary, improved understanding of letters as symbols that represent sounds, and improved comprehension all before the age of 5. What’s more important is without those early readiness skills, children who tend to struggle with reading at age 5 often continue their struggle for years to come.
If I’m already reading a book of my own, is it OK to read that to my baby, or is it better to read actual children’s books? Is it about the book itself, or the “together” time?
When your baby is very young, the sound of your voice and rhythm of speech while reading is just as important as the topic of the book. So by all means, read anything aloud when you are with your baby. As they age, the choice of book impacts their attention to the task of reading aloud. Moving to age-appropriate books, such as letter or number books, as your child reaches the end of year one, will help keep them interested in the task. Reading aloud also becomes more about the “together” time as you read the text but in a way that engages the child. For example, instead of simply reading “A is for apple, B is for ball” you are adding interactive comments such as “A is for apple – you LOVE apples! B is for ball – what kind of ball is that?” The reading experts call this non-immediate talk, and it increases the depth of knowledge a child can learn from the shared reading experience.
We know the AAP recommends against any screen time for kids younger than two years of age (at least for now!), but does this apply to e-readers also? Is reading on a Kindle or Nook worse than reading a paper book, even if it’s the same story?
I’m not sure we really know the answer to this one yet. We do know that there are benefits to having a physical book. For example, knowing which direction to hold the book, understanding how to turn pages, and seeing that a book begins at the first page and ends at the last are all learned skills that adults take for granted. We also want babies to manipulate books independently, which is taken away when the book is on an e-reader. Nevertheless, when traveling, it sure is nice to have hundreds of books at your fingertips in order to entertain a toddler.
What do you think about message books, like Everyone Poops, or some of the other titles out there that seek to create teaching moments? Are these a better choice than older classics like Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are?
Message books are great, and there is data supporting the fact that children learn more when they are given the opportunity to discuss the story and talk about their feelings. However, this happens with many different kinds of books, so each child should have an opportunity to experience a variety of books. It’s also important to remember that it takes time before some toddlers are willing to curl up to a traditional “story.” Holding a child’s attention is key, so beginning with letter and number books, or picture books, is sometimes more effective than jumping right into the books with more words and less pictures. It’s also important to remember that infants and young toddlers love repetition, so reading the same book over and over is developmentally appropriate and boosts language development and memorization skills.
Do you have any personal favorite books you recommend to parents of children around 7 months of age?
I really like alphabet books and number books for this age group. The old classic, “A is for apple” kind of books are great. They should be board books, meaning they stand up to being held and dropped and put into the mouth. They should have bright, engaging colors and pictures and often have texture to them as well. I also love board books about babies. Infants love to see faces and especially baby faces, so they find these books fascinating.