The Scientific Case For Reading To Your 6-Month-Old

A new study shows the benefits of reading to babies last for years.
Miho Aikawa via Getty Images

When your sweet, drooling baby seems more interested in chowing down on books than listening or looking at the pictures, it’s easy for a parent to my kid really getting anything out of this?

But the answer, according to new research presented at the recent Pediatric American Societies Meeting last week, is a resounding yes.

Researchers followed more than 250 mom-baby pairs recruited from a large, urban hospital. They monitored them from when the babies were 6 months until they’d turned 4-and-a-half.

The researchers asked the moms how many days a week they read to their children, as well as how high-quality their reading time was. That means doing things like pointing to the pictures in the book and talking about them, study lead Carolyn Cates, a research assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, told HuffPost.

Overall, the researchers found both the quantity and quality of early reading had an effect on literacy skills in toddlerhood. The effects of quality reading also seemed to be more long-lasting, leading to measurable differences in early reading and literacy skills by the time the children turned 4-and-a-half.

That suggests it’s not just the reading itself that matters. Instead, it’s that reading helps foster conversations between parents and their children that are key in priming their brains to learn how to speak and read.

“I think book reading is a really important context for these language-rich interactions to be happening,” Cates said.

Cates believes the study has value for pediatricians and public health experts seeking ways to lessen the impact that low socioeconomic status can have on children’s school readiness and long-term academic achievement.

“It reaffirms the current standards from the American Academy of Pediatrics that promotion of literacy is important very early on,” she said. The AAP urges all parents to read with their children beginning at birth and continuing through kindergarten ― and beyond.

The new research is just the latest in a string of studies showing how important reading aloud can be. MRIs looking at the brains of preschool-age children have shown that those who are routinely read aloud to have greater activity in the parts of the parts of the brain that help them understand narrative and visualize images. Other research has shown that children who grow up in homes with at least 500 books are nearly 20 times more likely to graduate from college.

So for all parents, the message is clear: Yes, your baby is listening to you read Goodnight Moon for the 900th time, and yes, they’re actually learning. Read on.

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