The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a highly publicized policy statement: pediatricians should be encouraging parents to read to their children daily, starting at birth. Not to be a downer, but my thoughts on this are a little mixed. On the one hand, great! We know that reading to our kids to facilitates early literacy and language acquisition, provides bonding time, and promotes a love of reading. I am so glad that pediatricians will be informing all families about these benefits.
On the other hand… Well, there is no other hand. Reading is great. I just fear that this is one more thing for new moms to feel like they’re failing at. I also think it’s kind of sad that pediatricians need to be explicitly told to do this and that anyone thinks this will make parents more willing/able to read to their kids. I know that there are people out there who are not aware of the benefits of reading during infancy, but I think what most people really need is a good stash of board books and more hours in the day… I digress.
Our baby girl is lucky enough to have plenty of books in her collection. I have many teacher friends and family members (including my reading consultant mom), so books were a popular baby gift. However, reading fell by the wayside early on. Frankly, I had other things to worry about (eating, feeding, sleeping, sanity). After a few weeks, when I finally did begin to read to baby, I was disappointed that she did not show the slightest bit of interest. It felt like I was reading to a rock – and not only did she fail to react in any way during our sessions, but she often became fussy or craned her neck to look in another direction. I felt like a complete idiot.
But we stuck with it, and I now consider our reading sessions a success. My 8-month-old sometimes shows interest in books (yes, interest in chewing them counts). She sometimes looks at the pictures. She occasionally even “talks” to or squeals at the pictures. She usually relaxes into me when I read to her. She even holds the book on occasion – it’s adorable! See how I keep my benchmarks pretty reasonable (i.e., low)?
Here are some key components of our reading time:
Board books. Baby chews everything, and why should books be any exception? I pretty much have to assume that every object within feet of her will end up in her mouth. As I mentioned, chewing books is one way of her showing interest. Plus, a little gummy wear and tear just demonstrates that they are well loved. Seriously, though, skip the family heirloom copy of Goodnight Moon for now and go for the thick cardboard version.
An almost annoying level of persistence. I remember when baby girl would whip her head around to look at the doorknob on my closet instead of whatever I was reading to her. I finally figured out that she would look at the book, at least momentarily, if I held it in front of her gaze. Maybe that’s a little extreme – and I’m sure I looked ridiculous – but I am proud of myself that I stuck with reading to her even when it seemed pointless.
Flexibility. Sometimes she is tired and I cut it short. Sometimes she’s wired and we do a second read. Sometimes I stick to the words on the page, and sometimes I just point out animals and colors. I find it’s good not to be too rigid about what we read and how. As long as we are doing some reading (but occasionally no reading), I feel like we’re doing just fine.
Unabashed silliness. Reading to my infant became much more fun when I stopped being self-conscious and just went for it. I never thought I would be one to do character voices, but it helps me get into it, and baby loves it too. Also, animals sounds are much more attention grabbing when done realistically, as opposed to just saying, “moo.”
So does reading to my infant feel ridiculous at times? Yes, but I am happy that we read together. I don’t do it because someone told me to or because I am trying to one-up anyone or because I am concerned about her SAT scores. I do it because I enjoy it, and so does she! Reading is an important part of our day most days. I don’t think we’re ready for Gone With the Wind just yet, but I look forward spending this quality time with my daughter for many years to come.