Why should I read to my baby when she can’t understand the story?

Reading to someone who seems more interested in chewing the book may feel silly. However, it's one of the best things you can do for your child's learning.

Learning Stages

By Janine Spencer, Ph.D.

Dr. Janine Spencer is a developmental psychologist and director of the Centre for Research in Infant Behaviour (CRIB) in the UK.

Until we have children, most of us probably haven’t read aloud since we were children ourselves. You might not immediately see the benefits to reading aloud with your baby—you might even feel silly doing it. But children who are read to from an early age are more successful when learning to read later for several reasons:

  • Listening to stories helps babies develop language skills. It familiarizes them to the rhythm and pace of language, and it also helps them to hear the boundaries between words.
  • By the time babies are cooing, at around two months, they’re ready to engage in turn-taking behavior. Hearing you read aloud encourages them use their own voice and helps build confidence in their communication abilities.
  • Picture books help babies learn to recognize familiar objects, like cows and boats and planes. As they get older they’ll be able to use the pictures in a book to work out the story. Later on, these same pictures will help them predict what the words are and so help develop their reading skills.
  • Stories stimulate babies’ imagination and creativity, which helps them develop better problem-solving skills.

Because I’m a fast reader, I used to stumble over words when I first read to my son. I quickly learned to slow right down. Reading slowly helps children work out who’s saying what and helps them to follow the storyline. Nowadays, before I read a new story to my son, I read it to myself first. This allows me to work out what voices I’m going to give each character. It’s so much fun. I can be as silly as I like and I’ve got an appreciative audience of one.

There are so many excellent children’s books it can be difficult knowing which ones to choose. Brightly colored picture books attract babies’ attention. Rhyming stories are easy for young children to follow, and help them learn the rhythm of language. Poems inspire a sing-song voice when reading, which babies find pleasing to listen to. The wonderful thing about poems is that they are easy to remember and can be recited in the car or at times when reading a book isn’t possible. The Owl and the Pussycat is my son’s firm favorite.

There are many educational reasons why reading to babies is important, but perhaps most important is that reading together helps forge a close bond between parent and child that will hold long after the story has been forgotten.