Reading to baby: how early is too early?

By Kate Caldwell

Many parents say they value reading with their babies and young children. They collect books long before the birth of the baby. They cherish books that are gifted from friends and family members. And when the baby is born, the parents say – I can’t wait to start reading when the baby is a bit older. The baby is just a bit too young now.

 

When the baby has finally arrived, no doubt family life goes a bit topsy-turvy as families settle in to new routines. It’s a busy time—not to mention exhausting.  Babies need constant changing, feeding, and burping.  Their demands on a family are many as they depend on love, interaction and practicalities. They also sleep a lot. So in between feeding, changing and burping, there might not be time to engage in a quick story. But can you think of anything better for a newborn than being lulled to sleep by a parent reading a story or singing a lullaby?

 

What has always interested me is that families say, they value reading and they look forward to sharing books together – when the baby is a bit older. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is something special to look forward to when the baby will laugh, coo and gurgle in response. A newborn is likely just to cuddle in and enjoy the warmth, the cosy feeling and the sound of the parent’s voice.

 

The message we need to remind families is that babies start remembering what they hear in the last trimester of pregnancy. Yes, before they are born. So when a baby is born, it comes into the world knowing the sounds of its parent’s voices. If a book has been read to a baby before it was born, it will know the book and the sound of a loved one reading it will soothe the baby.

 

Parents need solutions that work for their family. The last thing we want to do is make a parent feel bad or guilty about their parenting habits. We need to remind them that not only can they start reading before the baby is born, but singing, rhyming and talking will all have a positive effect. The idea that a baby is ‘too young’ to be read to is reflective of our culture and old beliefs.

 

Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly said that ‘the music education of the baby should begin nine months before the birth of its mother’. But if we take this out of context, and manipulate it slightly, you could argue that a child’s education (music or otherwise) begins 9 months before the birth of its mother. We’re remembering before we are born, and what we know, what we love and the voices we latch on to while we’re still in utero, is the beginning of our education. And that education is passed from generation to generation. Reminding us that you’re never too young, or too old, to be read to. A baby’s education begins 9 months before the birth of its mother.

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