“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”. -Dr. Seuss
In the era of electronic toys and the internet, today’s kids may have little, if any, reason to crack open a book. Unless we can teach them why reading and storytelling are so important to daily life, they may grow up lacking important comprehension skills and creative abilities.
Evidence of the earliest written communication dates back to about 7,000 B.C., which means humans have been trying to communicate and preserve their stories for nine millennia. And although the methods and media have evolved–especially in the recent digital age–the importance of literacy has never diminished. If anything, it has grown with the need to find our way in an increasingly complex landscape of media–and life–choices.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
The earlier we introduce a child to books and reading, the better. Stories help to develop personality and fuel a hunger for knowledge. It’s important to remember that the medium matters less than what lies within: A story has the same function as the key that unlocks future mysteries for a lifetime whether it is read on a digital tablet or a dog-eared tome from our own childhood.
How early can you begin to introduce books?
As soon as your baby begins to be interested in objects around him, which is usually few weeks after birth. Around the sixth month, a baby acquires iconic skill, meaning he learns to recognize the difference between a real object and the image it represents. Babies notice bright colors and simple shapes first. With time they start developing picture-reading skills, paying more attention to detail, structure (touch and feel books work well here) and even letters and words.
Most books for babies and children are marked with a recommended age. The very first ones indicate “Age 0+”, and are usually designed accordingly, made out of baby-proof cardboard, plastic or cloth, with no sharp edges or pages.
How to introduce books and stories
Early reading experiences are essential and require the guidance and direction of an adult. Reading to small children is an important first introduction to storytelling. Even reading to an infant gets a developing mind comfortable with words and cadence. And as she grows, your child will begin to understand the narrative flow of a story and look forward to what comes next. Reading books to your kids also helps to create a bond between child and parent–story time is quality time. Parent-child interaction–instead of letting TV and other passive entertainment take on the job of keeping kids busy–is crucial to the child’s brain development during the first years, as the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests.
Books are also a great opportunity to start introducing a second or third language– babies will relate a word to a picture or an icon.
How do you get your child interested in–and excited about–books?
- Create positive associations: Make a book shelf or other “reading zone” a stress-free, comfortable place to be.
- Set a good example: Little ones love to copy what parents and other adults do. If your child sees you with books or reading on an iPad or Kindle, he’ll want to do the same.
- Story time is quality time: Read to your kids. Story time should become a fun part of bedtime or any time you set aside just for reading. It will become something you both look forward to, and your child will have fond memories for a lifetime.
- Have a book handy in every room: When your child has finished a meal, or is getting ready for a diaper change, a colorful book will help capture his attention while you do what you need to do.
- Make it fun: Babies and younger children like books with lots of pictures, so try making animal sounds or other sounds or gestures related to the picture the child is seeing to get his imagination going.
- Let your child choose her own books: Kids love exploring, so let them flex their budding personalities by choosing their own books, whether in a bookstore or a library.
- Keep a book handy while you travel: New places offer new things for child to see and recognize, and if he is already familiar with animals, flowers or objects from his books, he’ll be able to find a context for new discoveries, which helps with brain development.
Keep reading green and safe
To be considerate toward our environment, opt for books made of recycled materials and/or paper from sustainable forests. Recycle existing books from friends and family; new generations will enjoy the same stories that previous ones did (make sure you store books properly to avoid mold and mildew).
© Photography by Lenka Ulrichova