I was inspired to write this post, by the glorious Smashing Single Parenthood’s blog, Books I love because of my children
My husband and I are huge Potterheads, and while I was pregnant with my first son, we talked about how we were going to brainwash our children into loving Harry Potter. We would giggle, like, “We’re so silly,” but we’d also reassure each other that we were 100% serious.
I started to read the first HP to my bump, and then I just carried on after our eldest son, R was born. I would save reading time for the night feeds so that I had some wonder to look forward to at 4am. He’d stir, I’d groan, I’d make his bottle with one eye open and a frown, and then I’d remember…. Harry’s about to visit Diagon Alley for the first time, and I’d be thrilled to be awake.
I’d do all the voices (I absolutely nail my Emma Watson impression), and my little R would look at me, or the pages and drink it all in. I love thinking about that.
My husband would also read aloud to R when he was tiny. He’d read Gatsby, or Huckleberry Finn, or Shakespeare (he’s an English teacher) and R would listen to his deep voice and drift off to sleep.
Initially the benefits of reading to my baby seemed to just be for me, but as he grew older I started to see how this simple and easy activity supported him in his development.
The Benefits of Reading to your Baby
As you read, your baby can lie on your chest and be comforted by the familiar smell and the vibrations of voice as you read aloud.
It is also a way for your baby to hear your voice without you needing to come up with things to say, because what we usually come up with is made-up nonsense, e.g: ‘Oh you’re so cute, you’re such a cutie, look at your cheeky-weekys.’
It can be a beautiful, calm bonding time for you and your baby, and it’s something you can do whenever you like, not just before bedtime.
You can bond over stories even when you’re not together. I remember when I was young, my dad would work late some nights and would have to miss our bedtime. So, he made us audio cassette tapes of him reading our favourite stories. We’d listen to him until we fell asleep. During lockdown R’s grandparents made videos of them reading stories for him to watch. This was a great way for him to remember their faces and voices through those horrible, lonely months. When he saw them again, it wasn’t a big deal, because for him he’d seen them every day anyway.
My son will be 3 in February, and he is able to have coherent conversations, ask questions, make up songs, give reasons for his insane meltdowns… his vocabulary is top notch. This may just be nature, but I believe that his love for reading has played a role. He’s only 2 and he already understands and correctly pronounces the word ‘cacophony’ because of ‘Hairy Maclary’s, Caterwaul Caper’ by Lynley Dodd.
I had to ask my husband what both cacophony and caterwaul meant.
A lot of children’s books are rhyming stories. This is probably because children tend to engage well with songs, so transferring that rhythmical flow into stories is a no-brainer. R loves Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd, who both tend to use rhyme in their story writing.
R has a good grasp of rhyme already, which helps him remember and recite his favourite stories.
When he first started repeating words, lines and phrases from his story books I was gobsmacked. I was reading ‘Monkey Puzzle’ by Julia Donaldson, and he just started joining in. It was a fall off the chair moment. Of course, it was his favourite story at that point, so we read it on repeat for about 3 weeks, but what I didn’t realise, is that all the while, he wasn’t just looking at the pictures and hearing my voice, he was actively listening and learning.
Here is a video of R when he was 2 years and 1 month (I have noticed, whilst trying to find examples of him reading, that he is very rarely fully clothed! At least he’s wearing trousers)
Now, at 2 years and 8 months he can recite an entire story, almost flawlessly. I will try and take footage of him reading the same story to upload soon – so you can see his progress.
I teach children with Dyslexia, and one of our morning activities is to recite a well-known story. Not only does this give them the confidence to be able to read a specific story independently, but it enhances their vocabulary and helps them match the word to its written form.
As we have read a multitude of stories to R since he was born, he is very familiar with a lot of them. So, during his playtime, he will choose whichever story he fancies, sit, and look at the pictures and will know the narrative. He can be consumed in a book from start to finish, without the need for someone to read it to him.
I will read him a bedtime story, but once that’s finished, he will choose several other books to take to bed with him. He will flick through them until he falls asleep. Sometimes he listens to his audio stories too. Wherever we go, we have a book packed in a bag or in a seat pocket in the car, just in case he needs some down time.
Obviously, he still watches Bluey on the iPad on some turbulent journeys and there’s a million colourful, plastic toys spread across my living room 24/7, but story books are always mixed in there too.
Reading to your baby may not have all these benefits, there’s all sorts going on with our little ones’ intricate minds, but I’m pretty sure benefit number 1 will always be a winner. With my second son, S, I haven’t been as consistent with the reading, because R is an all-consuming, tantrum-having, meltdown queen.
I’ve noticed that S prefers to bite and tear the pages of the book a lot more than R did. He’s also more interested in picking my nose and sticking his fist in my mouth than looking at the pictures… so who knows, we will see. If S turns out to be the book worm, then this is entire blog is gibberish.