The benefits of reading to children cannot be overemphasized. Researchers in child development have long said children who can read are more successful. Infants learn to love the sound of language before they even notice the existence of printed words on a page.

When the rhythm and melody of language become a part of a child’s life, learning to read will be as natural as learning to walk and talk. Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word.

Dr. Jessica Logan’s research showed children who are read to five times a day by age 5 have heard over a millions words whereas children who were never read to have heard over 4,000 words. It’s known that children who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. Exposure to vocabulary is good for all children. Parents can get access to books that are appropriate for their children at the local library.

Reading to different ages of children requires different styles. Tips from Raising Smart Kid (www.raisesmartkid.com/all-ages) suggest the following.

With all ages, make reading a regular activity starting with a few minutes twice a day.

When reading to a baby hold the baby comfortably, read slowly using a lilting singsong voice with exaggerated emphasis on important elements. Don’t feel awkward for acting a little silly while reading to hold the baby’s interest using different voices, body movements and sound effects.

Rhymes work best since you’re reading for ear appeal rather than comprehension. Rhymes are a type of sound young brains crave. Choose sturdy books that a baby can play with. Let your baby see you read as babies are more receptive to what you do than what you say.

When reading to a toddler have them help you choose the book. Do things that will make reading entertaining using different tones of voice or different voices for characters. You can tell the story in your own words, encouraging them to look at the picture, point out objects, repeat words and talk about the story. Ask questions like, “who did that?” or, “what is that called?” or, “why do you think that happened?”

Choose books that tell a story with much repetition and have the same words appearing over and over. Spend much time talking about the illustrations. Take your child to a book store or the library to pick out their own book.

Read aloud together with you pointing to the words. If your child makes a mistake, say the correct word and move on. Reading should be fun and will become a lifetime of stimulating fun and adventure.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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