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It counts when they’re young

It comes as no surprise to new mothers that their baby’s brain is amazing!  But it might be news that your baby’s brain is already processing complex language skills even at a very young age- and that reading to babies, even when they are newborns, reinforces these language skills.  Studies show that if you read to baby consistently before the age of four, there is a very good chance you will be raising a reader.

Literacy and emotion

What about playing an audio cd, showing a movie, watching a cute alphabet cartoon on Disney Kids channel or playing an edifying word game on the ipad?  Fun as these activities may be, they won’t make a reader.  The magic ingredient that makes baby learn is- you!  Nurturing, holding, eye contact, and simply love is what makes the reading take hold in baby’s brain.  The more attention and nurturing a child receives at home, the higher her IQ is likely to be.  In addition to the nurturing factor, another thing that helps a child grow into a reader is to have a good reading environment in the home.


So what does a good environment for early childhood literacy look like?  Pretty simple, actually: at least ten books for the children in the home.  I personally think keeping just a few books out at a time on a child-sized little bookcase and rotating them is much nicer than having shelves and shelves of books.  Having a few books out avoids overstimulation, and switching them out for the “new” books is always a special treat.  I also believe it’s quite nice if the parents themselves have books in their homes- you know, grownup books that they actually read.  Children are great imitators.  They want to drool on your smart phone because they see you engaged with it.  If they see you engaged with books they will find books very appetizing as well!

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Getting started: List of books (5)

Ten books… where to start?  Which books are best to start off your little one’s library?  It doesn’t matter too much, as long as the books are simple.  Babies respond to simple shapes, comforting bright or soft colors.  They love rhymes and soothing sounds.  They like pictures of simple things they see in their daily life, and they love animals!

The following are by no means the “best” books for babies- they are just books that I am partial to and all of them are wonderful.  “But there are only five, and earlier you said ten,” you may wonder.  That is true- I’ll explain in the next section!

Five Starter Books for Baby’s Library

1.  Little Poems for Tiny Ears  by Tomie de Paula- sweet little rhymes with adorable illustrations.  Tomie has a Mother Goose book that is also lovely.

2.  Mother Earth and her Root Children– by Sybille Von Olfers– Mother Earth keeps her babies underground all winter, and in spring sends them into the world to make the flowers grow.

3.  The Indestructibles series- Bright pictures, classic songs as texts, and safe for baby to chew on.  What more could you want?  I’m a huge fan of Mary had a Little Lamb by Jonas Sickler.

4. Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt – This old classic you may have somewhere at your parents’ house!  The bunny on the pages is soft and so fun to pet.

5.  DK books, especially with animals- These sometimes don’t even need words.  Just talking about the pictures is “reading” for baby and they love animal pictures, especially baby animals.


By the way, did you know that we carry Indestructibles at Motherhood Center?

Fancy Books

Five books down, five to go!  No need to buy numbers six through ten.  It’s safe to assume you will get them as gifts sooner or later.  In my book list, I did not mention old standbys like Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss, not because oldies are not goodies, but because these are the ones everyone wants to get for you.

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If you like me, crazy about gorgeous children’s books and rather wily and you want the good stuff, tip off Grandma and Grandpa and send them to a really classy indie bookshop.  Let them go to town!  Both Brazos books and Blue Willow carry only the best.  The sales people are experts in the field, and keep up with all the new publications.  Soon your child-sized bookshelf will be filled with glossy, richly colored jewels of books.  I promise you, they will be so delightful you will love them too, because the best contemporary children’s books really are little works of art.   Just remember not to be like me, and hog them all to yourself.


Brazos-BookstoreThe dreamy children’s section at Brazos Bookstore


So you’ve got the books down.  Now for the nurturing.

Children adore structure, repetition and ritual.  The classic ritual of bedtime story can be made even more special with a few very simple touches.  Turn the lights low, light a special candle.  A little rhyme or song before and after the story is a sweet touch that helps relax children and get them in the mood.  I love this one:

Mother of the fairy tale

Take me by your silver hand

Sail me on your silver boat

Sail me silently afloat

Mother of the fairy tale

Take me to your shining land.

And at the end of each story, the traditional and very inexplicable coup de grace of many Grimm’s fairy tale:

Snip, snap, snout.

My tale is all told out.

The book itself might even become part of the ritual.  Small children love repetition and instead of the gorgeously illustrated edition of Mother Goose Grandma just bought from Brazos you might find yourself reading a battered Disney board book you found at a garage sale, night after night, for months.  This is totally normal, just go with it.  It’s not the book per se that promotes literacy, it’s the love of the book, and the special time with you.

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Benefits of reading to children go far beyond their cognitive development.  It can have huge effects on their whole lives, particularly on their attitude towards education.

All too often, children are introduced to books in schools geared towards standardized testing.  There is little time for enjoyment.  Books mean work.  Books may mean boredom, tasks to be mastered, worksheets, results, and pressure.  This is not a healthy relationship with reading.

But kids who are read to from an early age associate books with happiness.  The attitude will be “Reading books is fun!”  These children are not intimidated by books or education.  In school they will not only read what they are assigned; they will see out books for themselves, for pleasure, and this gives children a lot of independence.  Does your child develop an interest in hamsters?  He can find out from books how to care for one.  Is your child lonely in a new school?  If she’s a reader, she can find friendship in a beloved character until she makes friends among her peers.

In Betty Smith’s classic children’s book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the child Francie transcends the poverty into which she was born.  How?  The first time she realizes the letters on the page make sense, and she can read.  From that moment on,

“The world was hers for the reading.”

When you give your child the gift of reading, you give her the world.

Volunteering with under-nurtured babies

The shadow side of learning about how important it is for babies to be read to, spoken to, sung to, praised and held for their cognitive development is the thought of all our many, many little ones who fall through the cracks.  If you have the time and feel the call, here are some great places to volunteer with babies who need a little extra love:

The Children’s Assessment Center

DePelchin Children’s Center


Further Reading

To learn more about how babies’ brains work, I recommend the wonderful National Geographic article about that very subject, (which was consulted for this blog).


Blog written by:

Brooke Bailey, Guest Services Representative
Motherhood Center

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