Watch anyone’s reaction to a new baby, and you will see awe, amazement, and wonder. And that’s as it should be. When caring adults talk and cuddle with them, babies develop in all sorts of marvelous ways. They listen for the voices of their parents and carers, preferring them to all the other noises in what must seem a very noisy, confusing world. They catch their parent’s or carer’s eye to get their attention and frequently look at them while they’re talking, setting up the beginnings of little conversations. They quickly begin to respond with sounds themselves as part of those conversations.
The main connections in babies’ brains are not fixed or pre-wired. Rather, they are actively linked up as babies respond to the world around them. When that world consists of caring people who take every opportunity to talk to them and make them feel special and valued, then we have a recipe for success! The one thing that makes a difference to children’s language and overall development is the amount of ordinary daily talk directed especially to them.
So, talk with your baby often. Tell them about what the water feels like as you bathe them, why you’re rubbing that wee brown spot off their rump, why they need to take a sleep before the afternoon’s exciting activity of visiting the supermarket, why you think you’ll choose the chick peas over the spaghetti…. Whatever your daily routine includes can also include your baby.
And read to your baby! Sharing a picture book with a baby provides opportunities for investigating the world around them by looking at the pictures, trying out some interesting words and rhythms, even more talk and of course, lots of cuddles. Those little black squiggles on white pages that we refer to as print capture babies’ attention, since they can see high contrasts very distinctly from birth. From there, they gradually begin to understand that the black squiggles tell stories and can provide interesting information. Later, those children who learn to read easily and happily are those who have already had lots of read-aloud time with loving adults. Nothing that happens at school after the age of five can replicate this. What happens before school is critical for a child’s language development and therefore sets the stage for the rest of their life.
Reading to your baby creates wonderful times for you both as you slowly get to know and appreciate each other and it provides a solid beginning for a loving and healthy lifelong relationship.