Thanks to baby reading expert, Caroline Blakemore, who wrote today's post. Caroline's refreshing thoughts on the brain benefits and emotional benefits of reading to babies are a good reminder for all parents who are working to give their babies the best start in life. Enjoy her post and remember to read to your baby every day!
Since the publication of our book, Baby-Read-Aloud Basics, it’s become obvious that there is something very Sacred about the time and space set aside for reading to your baby. Beyond the many enduring academic benefits that result from reading aloud to babies and toddlers (see our website, Readtoyourbaby.com), there are a host of equally important benefits that are now emerging in the field of brain research that involve the baby’s life-long emotional well-being.
One of the gifts that come through reading to your baby and toddler is the gift of your attention or your presence. When you look your child in the eyes before, during and after reading, you’re nonverbally saying, “I adore you. You are the most important thing in my life at this moment. I honor you and consider you to be a Sacred Being. I’m attending to whatever you need, and will honor those needs.” Isn’t this what every infant, toddler and child needs — a parent who is vitally present to his or her needs?
According to the research of Dr. Daniel Siegel, M.D. in his books Mindsight and The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive, many problems develop later in life when babies don’t “feel felt” right from the start. Not only children, but all of us, at least at times, need to “feel felt”. That is, we need those who are closest to us to give us their undivided attention.
However, increasingly I’m observing parents who give more attention to their smart phones than their babies. I see moms or dads with their babies right next to them, not even glancing at them, yet totally rapt in the spell of their cell phones. An imbalance of attention away from babies might result in various adverse consequences of which we can only speculate based what we know of the benefits of attachment. This doesn’t mean we can’t use our cell phones, but we can develop awareness to make sure that we’re not giving more attention to our phones than our babies.
Other recent research shows that between six to twelve months babies literally read our lips for information about the sounds they hear as they listen to us read and speak to them. So clearly babies are giving us all their attention as they gaze into our faces. Seeing our eyes and smiling faces look back at them helps create brain cells in the very malleable infant brain, instill a sense of comfort and safety, and develop future empathy and kindness in the frontal lobes of the brain.
Presence is the basis of bonding and attachment. Being present is equally shared between mom and dad, and is easily accomplished throughout the day when you relate to your baby through feeding, bathing, holding, diaper changing, and reading aloud. When you read-aloud you and your baby are deeply attached through gazing at and listening to each other. Only this face-to-face presence gives babies the information they need to develop strong language and relationship skills. This ongoing act of presence introduces and secures a closeness that will form the basis of a life-long bonded relationship. You’re not only giving one of life’s most treasured gifts to your child, but to yourself.
Caroline started and worked in two private schools before a thirty year career as a public school reading specialist in San Diego County. She also taught briefly in the education department at Cal State San Marcos. Coauthor of Literacy Centers for the Primary Classroom published by Pearson, she and Barbara Weston also wrote Baby Read Aloud Basics published by Amacon. The basic principles of literacy and language development for babies and toddlers can be found on her website, Readtoyourbaby.com. Presently Caroline is a literacy consultant, spiritual director, writer, artist and grandparent to her five grandchildren, all of whom were brought up being read to every day.