Bring Back Reading

Grandchildren  are overwhelmed with an array of intellectual stimuli immediately after birth, from toys that come in a range of colors, shapes and sounds  to music CDs and DVDs. Gadgets galore, all designed to stimulate their growing brains and educate them about the world around them.

It seems that with all the paraphernalia designed to develop them intellectually and socially, the art of reading has been set aside.

Studies suggest strong evidence that the benefit of reading to a child encourages healthy brain development. The brain is the only organ not fully formed at birth and reading and talking to   children in early childhood has been shown to raise their IQ. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends doctors prescribe reading along with other advice to new parents.

The fact is that if a baby can respond to a warm caring voice, she is ready to have a book read. University of California scientists have found that babies just over a year old actually process words as quickly as adults do and even grasp the meaning of some words.

Not surprising, reading and talking to a child in the early years increases his vocabulary, an important indicator of his level of readiness for school once he starts kindergarten. Books often have words not used in everyday language, or on television, and these words will stick in a child’s mind.

Reading has also been shown to expand the baby’s attention span, whereas watching television with its fast images and pace actually lowers the attention span. And, books encourage a child’s creativity, her ability to expand her imagination. Children who come from families who make reading an important activity generally score higher in writing and math skills as well as reading skills.

Besides helping in brain development, reading is a way for parents and grandparents to bond with the baby. A research study at Montreal Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit found that when parents came in to the unit and read to their infants, the activity helped strengthen the bond with the parent.

While baby videos and DVDs are popular with new parents as ways of stimulating brain development, a University of Washington study shows that children who watched DVDs and videos actually scored lower in language skills whereas children who were read to showed an increase in language skills.

Reading is an ideal way for a grandparent to spend quality time with a new grandchild. And, there are lots of ways to make books available. Libraries have special sections of books for infants and toddlers.  Books as gifts for birthdays and special holidays are another idea for grandparents to adopt.

To make the experience for both of you most enjoyable, here are some suggestions:

— Choose a book you both will like. And make sure it’s age appropriate.

For instance, an infant will like a book with textures and lots of pictures. It’s a good idea to have books that feature familiar objects in a baby’s word and a variety that includes rhyming books and repetition of words. For babies, heavy board books are good—also good for chewing!

— Choose a time when you and the baby are both relaxed and let the story come alive with sound effects and different voices for the characters. Make sure the baby can see the pictures and point to them while reading. Grandchildren let us revisit our own childhood and we can be as silly as we want while reading to them. Make it an interactive experience for toddlers and ask them to identify the pictures.

Remember their attention span may not be long, so don’t feel discouraged if the child decides to scamper off your lap and grab a toy in the middle of the story.

Children like repetition and may ask to have the same book read again and again. I think I read Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown to my first grandson three times in one sitting. Repetition is a good thing in creating new neural pathways in a child’s brain.

— Keep books handy in your home and take new ones with you when you’re going to babysit. When books are readily available on low shelves, even tucked into the bottom of the crib, they become a natural part of a child’s life.

For us as grandparents, reading is a chance to bond with our grandkids. The right book can be the best sedative to put a child to sleep. And, it gives us a chance to revisit some of our favorite children’s books. I still enjoy reading The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, although my grandsons are a bit curious that I still cry every time I read it.


(October 2011)