Talk to Babies to Teach Reading

Learning to read is a skill that takes a long time to develop and begins during infancy. Parents are baby’s first teachers. They can help their child develop reading skills (and an enjoyment of reading as they grow older) by supporting their child’s budding language abilities.

As you might guess, teaching a baby about reading is different than teaching an older child to read. Babies first start to learn about reading by learning to speak and understand language—in essence, by learning to communicate with others. Parents, by speaking and responding to their babies, help build their language skills. As soon as babies hear language, their orientation to literacy has begun. Research shows that babies who hear many words in the first years of life and who are actively engaged in communicating have higher scores on achievement tests in elementary school than babies whose exposure to language is not as rich.

Through research at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), we’ve identified 3 examples of how parents can help their babies develop basic language and communication skills that will prepare them for reading later in life.

  1. Talk with your baby while feeding, bathing and diapering.
    Language is the foundation of reading development, so the opportunities parents have to talk with babies—while feeding, during bath time, when diapering, etc.—are important. When you speak to your baby throughout the course of the day, you are actually teaching language and communication skills.
  2. Tell nursery rhymes or sing simple songs with your baby.
    This provides infants with a sense of storytelling structure and gives them the opportunity to predict “what comes next,” an important part of literacy development.
  3. Offer your baby cardboard books.
    Picture books created for babies provide the opportunity for infants to begin having independent experiences with reading materials. And, reading the books to a baby provides the literature exposure, the pleasure of physical contact and the opportunity to experience reading as a positive experience.

The first years of a child’s life provide many wonderful opportunities for parents to cultivate their baby’s basic language and communication skills. Through simple, everyday experiences with language and with

warm, loving caregivers, very young children will come to learn the joys of communicating, exchanging ideas and thoughts, and of reading.

Visit the CEED website for reading tips for toddlers and preschoolers.

Reprinted with permission of the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) at CEHD UMN.

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