The Long-Term Benefits of Reading to Your Baby

Reading books to your baby can be great for bonding or setting the mood before bedtime, and research shows there are long-lasting effects of this simple routine. What types of books are best for babies? How should parents be reading? And what are some tips for raising readers?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:10
Reading to our babies before bed or during playtime can be such a special time of bonding. But did you know that it's more than just a fun activity? Studies have shown that reading books to babies helps them learn valuable language and other developmental skills that will help them later in life, including, of course, literacy. Today, we have on some book loving mamas and a reading expert to share more on the importance of reading to your baby and how you can make this a special part of your family's routine. This is Newbies. Welcome to newbies. Newbies is your online on the go support group guiding new mothers through their baby's first year. I'm Natalie Gross. I'm a mom to a three year old boy and a baby girl. We've got a great show today talking about reading to your baby, and the routine that you can do as a family with that. So now if you haven't already, be sure to visit our website, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, which keeps you updated on all the episodes that we release each week. Another great way to stay updated is to hit that subscribe button in whatever podcast app you're in right now. And if you're looking for a way to get even more involved with our show, then you can check out our membership club called Mighty Moms. That's where we chat more about the topics discussed here on the show. And it's also an easy way to learn about a recording so that maybe you can join us. I'd like to introduce our panel of mom guests who are here with us today we have Emily Burgner and Amanda Kraker. And we'll also be meeting our expert, Maya Payne Smart a little later on in the show as well. So mamas, thank you so much for being here. Let's kick it off with some introduction. So tell us about you, your family, including how old your kids are. Emily, do you want to go first?

Emily Burgner 2:12
Sure. My name is Emily. And I have two kids. I have a six year old son and a two year old daughter. Yeah, I stay at home with both of them. Well, I guess my older goes to kindergarten now, but I stay at home with them. And I'm just having fun being a mom.

Natalie Gross 2:31
That's great. Thanks so much for being here. Amanda, what about you?

Amanda Kraker 2:34
I've got four kids. 6, 4, 2 and a four-month-old. I stay at home with them. I homeschool my six year old, and my four year old is just starting preschool at home. So busy busy.

Natalie Gross 2:50
Yeah. And Amanda, you are in Michigan and Emily, you are in Northern Virginia. Is that correct?

Emily Burgner 2:55

Natalie Gross 2:56
Okay, great. Well, what are your experiences with reading to your babies? Why is this topic so important to you?

Emily Burgner 3:02
I was a second grade teacher before I became a mom. And I just saw a huge difference in kids who were read to at home, and kids who were not kids who grew up around a lot of literacy and does it it did not. Not only am I a huge book lover myself, but also I, I love children's books. Being in the education field, really fostered a love of books. And I also had a huge library to bring home when I stopped teaching. I just always knew that I wanted to spend a lot of time reading to my kids.

Amanda Kraker 3:36
I just I always loved books, and I wanted to share that with my kids, you know, just kind of foster a love of reading. So when we had my first I just started reading to her all the time. Same with the next three kids. And they all they all love books, they come bringing me books and want to read all the time.

Natalie Gross 3:59
That's great. Do you have specific reading routines or goals that you follow in your house? Like especially think back to when your kids were babies that kind of how were you building that into your day?

Emily Burgner 4:10
We started when they were both newborns, reading to them as a part of their nighttime routine. You know, we would do like bath and jammies. And then we would rock and read for a long time. And so we've continued that as they grew up just we always read at bedtime. But then other than that during the day, since both of my kids have stayed home with me the whole time. During the day, you know, we might have a designated time reading depending on our schedule, but then also they just naturally loved reading because we spend so much time reading and so they go and they put bookshelves off the shelf and sit down and read by themselves outside of just with me.

Amanda Kraker 4:53
That's great. Pretty much the same here. We started reading when they were newborns. And then as kids were added, the newborns didn't always get like baby books per se read to them because it was usually being read with the older children. And usually during the nighttime routine, same thing, you know, right before bed, we usually read for a while and it helps them calm down and get a little sleepy. And then throughout the day, our curriculum that we do for homeschool is reading based, so we get quite a bit of reading in and I usually will bring my newborn over if she's awake, obviously, because if she's sleeping, it does no good. But I'll usually bring my newborn over and she'll sit in my lap while I read to the other kids for school. So she gets a lot more not baby focused reading. But we still that's kind of the routine that we do. And then throughout the day, the other kids will bring me books, so I'll grab her if she's awake.

Natalie Gross 5:56
I feel that with our baby, it's she's getting a lot of like the older toddler books, many of them like you know, one word per page kind of thing that we did with my sons. I feel that too. All right, before we take a quick break quickly tell us your favorite baby or kids book and why.

Emily Burgner 6:14
You know, I feel like I can pick our favorite kids book based on what what we read the most. And it's got to be Eric Carle books for us like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear Brown Bear. Yeah, those are just on repeat for both of my kids. Even still because all time favorites

Amanda Kraker 6:36
For us we liked a lot of them Margaret Wise Brown like Good Night Moon and their current favorite right now is Good Night Little One. We read that one a lot practically. Every night. I'm pretty sure I have it memorized.

Natalie Gross 6:48
I have not even heard of that one. So we'll have to check it out. It's good one. Nice. Well, thank you so much moms. We're gonna take a quick break. Everyone stay tuned.

Natalie Gross 7:04
Alright, today on Newbies, we're talking about how to promote literacy at home. And yes, that begins long before your child can read. Maya Payne Smart is joining me for this conversation. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six." She holds a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University, and a bachelor's in social studies with honors from Harvard University. She currently serves as affiliated faculty in Educational Policy and Leadership and the College of Education at Marquette University. So Maya, welcome to Newbies. I'm so glad you're here.

Maya Payne Smart 7:36
Thank you so much for having me. And to update the book actually is out now. So no longer forthcoming.

Natalie Gross 7:42
Okay, wonderful. Great. Well tell us what inspired you to write this book as a resource for parents with babies and young children.

Maya Payne Smart 7:51
When I was a new mom, I had just the biggest dreams for my daughter as a reader. I named her after Zora Neale Hurston and author I'm named after Maya Angelou, another author. And I just saw this big gap of missing information between her as this little bundle of joy and you know that future as a strong reader. So just got super curious as a parent about how reading really develops, what can we do in everyday life to support it beyond just reading books to kids. And eventually, I had so much information to share that a book was a better format than my blog and casual conversations with other moms.

Natalie Gross 8:31
So tell us how books help babies get that really literacy foundation before they can even really understand what you're saying or what you're reading to them.

Maya Payne Smart 8:40
I like to describe books, it's just a wonderful way to provide kids with language, nutrition, all of the words that they'll eventually recognize when they are readers. And as they get older are initially words that they've heard spoken by the parents and siblings and loved ones and other people in their immediate environment. So they need all of the words that we can give them in order to make sense of their surroundings and learn the names of all the objects and people in their lives and then build up to more abstract concepts. So any words that we're speaking to kids are just a really valuable part of their growth and development, and also the Coos and babbles that they give to us in response. So when I was a new mom, I did get a lot of advice just to talk to my daughter all the time and describe the shapes and colors of fruit in the grocery store or flowers that we walked by in our daily walks. But what I learned from the research is that it's just as important to give her a chance to vocalize and respond. So it's important to ask questions of babies when we're reading and just in everyday conversation, and to recognize that there coos and babbles, eye gaze gestures, all of that really is a part of dialogue with us and that that's how their brain is developed in Richard,

Natalie Gross 10:00
Like Emily was saying she saw as a teacher like a big difference between kids who were read to and kids who were not. Can you talk more about that?

Maya Payne Smart 10:07
Absolutely. In the course of everyday conversation, parents introduce a certain number and kind of words and often it can be with our toddlers and little ones directive, stop that do this. Yes, no kind of short words and phrases and directives. But when we're sitting and reading a book with a child, we're often introducing them to worlds beyond their immediate environment to words that we wouldn't typically speak in conversation. So it's a way really to build vocabulary, and oral language skills and background knowledge. So all of those words and conversations that they're having with us around stories are really just a huge part of their ability to comprehend reading down the road.

Natalie Gross 10:52
Okay, well, what types of books should parents be reading throughout the first year as babies go through these different developmental stages, what books are best, you know, for the beginning versus when they're closer to one walk us through that?

Maya Payne Smart 11:04
For parents, it's important to remember that with the itty bitty is they're not reading the words on the page, right? They're experiencing the book, they're looking at the pages, they're starting to grasp at things without even using their thumbs initially, but they do see the print and images. Oftentimes, in those first few months, they prefer looking at human faces. So books with pictures or even books that you've made, almost like a family album, are really interesting. So you want to present them with books that they're interested in. Noise books are great also, just to help them sort of begin distinguishing among sound. So books that have you know, animal sounds and objects to chew Moo back all that you can see their their interest and their gaze on you and kind of engagement with what you're reading. Nursery Rhyme books are wonderful. An important part of learning to read down the road is being able to discern the different sounds within words. So knowing for example, that cat has a look, and sounds. And kids pick up on that over time, when we read books that have alliteration, you know, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers about this, or you know, Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, and all those things, but rhyming books are wonderful for that as well. And then I also encourage parents to think about with babies reading books that do have character names. So there are a lot of books that don't really have a plot, they might just have an object and the word below it. But there's some research that shows that infants are more interested in pay more attention to and learn more from books where the characters have a name. So we're not sure exactly what the mechanism of that is the reason behind it, it could be because the parent has a different emphasis in their voice or as a reading, if they're talking about Pete, the cat, for example, or Jack and Jill going up the hill, if there's something about the way the parent reads that captures the child's interest. But that's just another thing to think about.

Natalie Gross 13:11
That's really fascinating. I had never heard that before.

Maya Payne Smart 13:13
Yeah, that was one of the surprising things that I discovered, I spoke with a researcher named Lisa Scott, who had just done a ton of research into infant learning and what captures kids attention. And with babies, it really is about attention. They're learning from what they're paying attention to. So who knew that something parents would know with that without researchers telling us?

Natalie Gross 13:39
Of course, yeah. Well, we've heard it's good to read to our children and to our babies, you know, as we've been discussing, but is there a specific way that parents should be reading that as best?

Maya Payne Smart 13:49
I think it's best, when possible to be expressive in your reading, to try to bring some emotion or variation to your tone, as you're reading again, that the name of the game is just keeping their attention. And when you are looking at them, and directing words to them, and making it obvious to the child that your words are for them. I think that matters. When you want to speak obviously, in loving terms, and you want your voice to be kind of melodic, and mentioned expressive, and it's fine. Also to be repetitive to read the same books multiple times, if the child is still interested, it's because they're still learning from it. They're still getting they're still interested in it. They're still getting something from it.

Natalie Gross 14:33
Yeah, my toddler loves reading the same books over and over and over. And he's on to me now when I you know, sort of skip over some of the paragraphs or whatever, in a really long book, and he's like, "Mommy, why did the words go missing?" I don't know if any of the other moms do that. But I certainly do try to cheat sometimes.

Maya Payne Smart 14:52
And it's a challenge as a parent, and I always remind people so it doesn't have to be at bedtime. I was a terribly inconsistent a bedtime story reader, I personally am just more alert and with it in the morning. So even personally, if I'm reading a book, I'm more likely to read a novel that I'm really into when I first wake up as opposed to right before I go to bed. So it's okay for parents to find other moments or spots in the day to get their reading.

Natalie Gross 15:19
Yep. Well, thank you so much, Maya for sharing this important information. We're going to take another quick break, and then bring our moms Emily and Amanda back into the conversation

Natalie Gross 15:35
All right, welcome back mamas. Any thoughts on what we've just heard from Maya?

Emily Burgner 15:39
Yeah, I thought it was really interesting hearing about making reading books with a character specifically. And then also just making sure reminding me that I need to use like tone and inflection when I'm reading those stories. I know my two year old right now is really obsessed with a beauty and abuse story. And I feel like I get a little boring in my storytelling, even though she is still very interested in it. But I know that she can gain a lot from the way I read to her and say things in the tone of my voice through storytelling.

Natalie Gross 16:18
Amanda, did you have any any thoughts on that?

Amanda Kraker 16:21
I was actually quite interested that that names for characters made a difference. Like I mean, I guess I've not paid attention. But I've never noticed that that that would make them more interested in I mean, today, when we were reading my daughter was like vocalizing what we were reading. But I don't know. I never thought about having the kid. The newborn respond to you like the the baby's asking them questions and stuff? Because usually I just read at my babies. Not like occasionally I'll ask a question, but I never thought like that it would be important for them to, to vocalize and verbalize back. That I thought that was quite interesting.

Natalie Gross 17:03
Yeah, for sure. Well, Maya, how would you suggest parents of babies really start to make reading a priority and then moms, after she's, you know, done, please share your tips as well of how you've done this in your own homes. And I know we've kind of covered that a little bit already. But be thinking of, of some tips there. So Maya, how can parents really start to do this?

Maya Payne Smart 17:23
I think one key thing is to make it really easy for yourself. So having designated areas and it doesn't have to be a giant bookshelf or anything elaborate. But maybe it's just a stack of books next to a chair and the nursery, or there's a basket of books in the kitchen or wherever those spots are, where you land with your child, just seeing the books often is enough of a reminder to prompt you to pick one up and read. And even if the child likes to hear the same book over and over again, that can be tough for the parent to stay excited about it. So mix in books that you genuinely enjoy, and ask people for recommendations and make it fun and interesting for you as well. Some of when mom used a diaper changing pad that had a nursery rhyme pattern on it. And that was kind of a prompt to just recite some Nursery Rhymes anytime she's changing a diaper. So all those kind of like physical prompts and reminders in your space are super helpful. And then the other thing is just remind yourself of why you're doing it, that it really has incredible, long lasting impact for your child's language and literacy development for you to read when they're little. Yeah, those are

Natalie Gross 18:39
Great ideas. Emily, what about you,

Emily Burgner 18:41
I would recommend making sure that you make books part of your gifting process. So we always give books as Christmas presents and as birthday presents. But then also just like everyday outings when you're at Target or something and you, you know, my kids have a terrible habit of most of the time, they get to pick out something, and just really encouraging books to be part of that because I feel like part of the reason that my kids love books so much is that we all get so excited about it. And it's so sad as a teacher, when you see kids come in at like seven years old. And they say they hate reading already. And they just learned how to read. And so I just have so far tried to really push reading is just as exciting as our books are just as exciting as a toy. So anyway, that just kind of brings reading to the center of our priorities.

Natalie Gross 19:44
Yeah, that's so good. Because you know, so much of parenting is really like modeling what we want our child to do. So it's like if you show excitement about books, they will tell you no, right? Amanda, what about you?

Amanda Kraker 19:55
We do a lot of so we also we keep books like in the kitchen where the home school stuff isn't in their room, we have a bunch of books, so they're accessible and whatever. And then I try not to, if I see them reading a book, I try not to ask them to do something else. So that they'll, they'll be able to read. You know, um, I can't think of the word uninhibited, I don't know. But uninterrupted, there we go. But then also, we do a lot of audiobooks. Because a lot of the times, you know, I'm busy, I'm working with, you know, one of the kids in school or I'm doing house chores, or I'm, you know, making dinner or lunch or whatever, I'm doing laundry, and I don't have time to sit down and read, sometimes as much as I would like. So on busier days, a lot of the times, I'll do audiobooks, I'll check out audiobooks from the library or use Libby and check out audiobooks that way, and we'll listen to to audiobooks, if you know they want to if they're bored or something or if we're in the car, especially we do a lot of listening to audiobooks in the car, and they love it.

Natalie Gross 21:07
All great ideas. Thanks so much for sharing. Maya, do you have anything to add before we wrap up?

Maya Payne Smart 21:14
I just want to reiterate some of the things that Emily and Amanda just said, it's so important to follow the child's interest. So giving them the opportunity to pick out books as a fun thing when you're shopping or in other contexts. That opportunity to think about books that they love to give to other people is wonderful. It gives them just that sense of ownership and deepens their engagement with reading and then audiobooks absolutely count as books and as reading and you can spark so many wonderful conversations around those books. And then sometimes if there's a series, some that listen to some they'll read on paper, some they'll read with a sibling aloud. So recognizing that it's all reading, it all counts, it all builds, but vocabulary and background knowledge and supports all of the skills that we want them to have as they get older. It's just really wonderful to have that culture of reading in your families, starting with the itty bitty ones.

Natalie Gross 22:12

Natalie Gross 22:13
Thank you so much to all of you for joining us today. You can find out more about Maya and her work at maya That's Also, listeners check out where we have all of our podcast episodes plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 22:41
That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggy Pals for expecting parents, Parent Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, the Boob Group for moms who give breast milk to their babies and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies, your go-to source for new moms and new babies.

Disclaimer 23:05
This is been a New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode I presented for educational purposes early statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of new mommy media and should not be considered facts will such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating healthcare problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If your questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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