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April 13, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Read Out Loud to Your Kids Every Night

The secret to super-smart kids? Reading!

Tonight in Nashville, a father is building his daughter’s brain, without lifting a finger. Well, except to turn the pages of The Going-to-Bed Book by Sandra Boynton. Parent-child reading helps prepare infants for future learning, observes Danielle Z. Kassow, Ph.D., of the Talaris Research Institute, a nonprofit research organization studying early brain development.

“Experiences with parents help the brain get organized,” Kassow says. “Any experiences that are loving, warm, nurturing — such as singing, playing or reading together — affect the wiring of the brain.”

Positive memories of snuggling and reading Goodnight Moon — or any story or chapter book — build an enduring interest in books. After all, as adults, many of us still relax before bed with a good novel. In order to create a budding bookworm, take the time to read with your child consistently. Reading together boosts long-term success, Kassow points out, because it increases attachment.

“Research has found that when children have a secure attachment to parent in infancy,” Kassow says, “they have better responsiveness to reading when in toddler and preschool years.” Here are more tips for reading with your infant:

Captivate Your Baby’s Senses

Brain areas controlling vision and sensory integration are the first to develop, say researchers. So it’s no surprise that babies love titles with touchable fur, bright colors, scratch-and-sniff strawberries; or books that squeak, rattle and crinkle.

Accept the Nutritional Content of Books

Infants explore with their mouths — in fact, all that tasty cardboard is good for your curious child. They see books as an everyday object they feel comfortable playing with, rather than an off-limits treat. “It’s great for a young child to hold the book, and put it in their mouth,” Kassow says. Keep books easily accessible, so your baby can crawl over and pick one up whenever she’s curious.

Sing a Story

Babies love poems, songs and nursery rhymes, particularly when they’re sung by a parent or other trusted caregiver. Once you’ve got a book memorized (it won’t take long) try singing the text while in the car, or waiting at a doctor’s office as a distraction. You may be building long-lasting verbal skills, too — a recent study from Georgetown University suggests that music and language share the same brain real estate.

Select Baby-friendly Topics

Animals, routines (bedtime, getting dressed), food; or books with many simple, bright illustrations and few words. Talk about what you see on each page, and don’t worry about following a narrative. Kassow points to studies showing that children exposed to a wide variety of words have a better vocabulary by school entrance.

See Reading as a Form of Play

Don’t feel silly putting on a show while you read to your baby — make funny noises, speak dramatically, or in “parentese,” the sing-song voice that parents worldwide use to converse with babies. Your enthusiasm demonstrates that “books can be exciting and entertaining,” Kassow says. Plus, many researchers believe parentese helps prep baby brains for the natural patterns of everyday language.

Bilingualism and Books

According to research from the University of Washington, baby brains learn language from human interaction, not expensive foreign-language videos. If you’re bilingual, you can help baby’s future fluency by reading books in your native (or second) language.

Too busy for books? Don’t be. But once babies start crawling, they may not want to stop for stories, so read during mealtime, playtime or bath time. You can read to your child as she motors around the room. Kassow suggests keeping reading sessions short: “It’s fine to stop halfway through, and come back to the book later on.”

Nestle on the couch or before bed and read to your baby. He will enjoy the sound of your voice, particularly if it’s part of a comforting nighttime routine. Kassow acknowledges that some parents don’t feel comfortable reading aloud to an infant. But don’t wait until your child is a toddler to bestow the benefits of a good book. “It starts right from birth,” Kassow says.

Tips for Reading Out Loud

  • Read out loud, every day, any book
  • Use your senses (texturized books are great)
  • Encourage responsiveness: if your child makes a sound related to what you're reading, respond
  • Respect your child's book preferences once he's old enough to choose

More Great Stories:

STUDY: Print Books are Best When Reading With Toddlers

Give Me 20 for Reading, Kids!

Great Ideas for Strengthening Family Bonds

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.