Recently, on a visit to the home of a new acquaintance, I took a gift of a book for her 7 month-old infant. It was a plastic-coated board book filled with bright pictures of animals. The pages were sturdy, with clear, bright colour pictures of animals. Before I could place the book within his reach, the baby, gurgling and dribbling, tugged the book out of my hand. He looked at the cover of the book and eagerly grabbed the edge of the first page that I began to turn for him. He looked at the pictures with big clear eyes. He sat there quiet, absorbed as he looked on; a smile on his face.
It was then I heard my new friend say, “Books are new to my child.” Then she continued by saying, with a casual shrug, that children in her culture (I am not going to say which) prefer to play rather than read books. I was taken aback and greatly saddened when I heard her say this. Why?
Babies and books go together. But here was a child at seven months old interacting with a book for the very first time.
Books for babies, like toys for babies, are everywhere now. They’re made out of firm board; some with plastic or rubber coating. There are even books made out of cloth. Whichever kind, these books are made to withstand chewing, pulling, tugging and washing (to get them clean or to have child play with in bath). Parents can aim to buy one or a few of these kinds of books for babies from among all the toys that they purchase for their little one.
I watched as the baby played with the book, all the while his eyes sparkling with delight as he looked at the bright animals on each page. I was curious as to know what was he thinking as he ‘turned’ the pages. What would happen if I began to read the words aloud; clearly and slowly. Oh I am sure then he and that book would have been the best of friends!
Parents need to make the first step toward creating life-long readers. But here was a parent who readily acknowledged that books were not liked in her culture even from a young age, and from her reaction it seemed she didn’t find that this was a problem.
While it may be difficult to break out of certain cultural practices, research shows that making books available to children from the early years and reading to them, helps establish the foundations for developing into a good reader (and someone who will grow up to like reading as a form of entertainment).
“An infant won’t understand everything you’re doing or why. But you wouldn’t wait until your child could understand what you were saying before you started speaking to him or her… or wait until he or she could shake a rattle before you offered any toys.” (KidsHealth)
I knew that the little book will see rough days ahead; a corner chewed on here, a page ripped off there. But that is fine because I knew what was important was that this book presented to the baby a whole new way of seeing the world. It presented print and pictures. It was entertainment as much as his rattle. With the presence of more books around him, and in hearing them being read aloud to him; this child would grow up to find books not just useful but also satisfyingly entertaining. What’s more it’s likely he would develop into an early reader. If only his mother was ready to be the one to change the very thing she observed.
Action Points: There are many benefits in providing books in the home for a child and in parents finding time to read to their child. What’s most important from an early age is to try to make books, and not just toys, available to your baby. Also, provide books with bright, clear pictures (whether with text or wordless). Spend a little time everyday ‘reading’ to your baby (this could be simply talking about what you see in the pictures). Finally, don’t forget to sing (chant) and talk to your child as much as possible.
Do these simple steps and you will be laying the foundation for a child who grows into a life-long reader.