“On Reading” is a weekly column that will include information, thoughts, and personal reflections about the craft of reading. We will feature posts from authors, industry experts, and readers of all kinds. If you would like to submit a guest post, Contact Us.
This week’s guest columnist is Harriet Ziefert, creator of Begin Smart books (which we recently reviewed HERE). She written more than 200 books for children. I am proud to present this additional information which really gives insight into reading with your infants, babies and toddlers.
As an author and publisher of books for children, I have long been concerned by a contradiction. On the one hand, most child development experts recommend that parents spend lots of time talking to, and holding, their infants. Research, books, and articles tell us that such interaction is important to our babies’ social and intellectual development. At the same time, only a few of these experts emphasize the importance of reading to babies – which itself involves, after all, talking to and holding them.
Perhaps this is because many think of books as stories to be told and given this limited definition, it makes no sense to read a story to a baby word-for-word, page-by-page. Reading to a baby requires the adult to follow the baby’s lead and interests, and become, in the broadest sense of the word, “ author.”
I view sharing a book with a baby as a conversation, a dialogue, a game for two players. It’s important for the grown-up to engage the baby by making up “texts” to go along with the pictures. Reading should be fun. As soon as it’s not for either partner, the game ends, to be picked up again later.
When we read books to babies and interact with them, they benefit as much as older children do when stories are read to them. Here’s why:
- Babies want to make sense of the world. By looking at a picture, talking about it, then moving on to the next one, a parent or caregiver satisfies a child’s need to make sense of his or her surroundings.
- Babies soak up knowledge. Every time they receive stimulation – through sight and sound, smell and touch, love and cuddles – babies become smarter and more aware.
- Babies respond to words and actions. As they move out of infancy, babies begin to actively listen. The more they hear, the sooner they will be able to form their own words.
- Babies quickly learn concepts as they begin to speak. After 12 months, babies begin to develop the capacity to predict, to follow verbal directions, and to understand cause and effect.
What kind of books should we be sharing with infants, babies and toddlers? Many books on bookstore and library shelves, whose covers say, “appropriate for ages 1 to 3 or ages 2 to 4,” are simply too advanced. A book just right for a three-year-old is going to be beyond the intellectual reach of most one-year-olds.
I created Begin Smart, a developmental read-and-play program for babies and toddlers, to help parents make sense of the disordered array of reading choices and titles they often face in the marketplace. Begin Smart books are age-appropriate in both content and format and carefully leveled in six-month increments (newborn to 6 months; 6 to 12 months; 12 to 18 months; and 18 to 24 months). In this way, Begin Smart books respect babies’ developmental milestones.
To a baby, everything is new. Babies certainly need parents and caregivers to hold them, to play with them and to reassure them. But they also need grownups to read to them. Reading the right books to infants, babies and toddlers not only helps them develop intellectually, it also helps them make sense of the exciting, yet complicated, world around them.