Often, when people talk about the importance of reading to children, they mean reading to children who are three years or older – some people even mean children over the age of five! An increasing body of research, however, is showing that we should start reading to children when they are still in the womb!

Doctors’ orders

Doctors around the world are giving the same advice to new parents: start reading to your baby as soon as they are born and keep reading to him or her. Why? Because we know that children’s brains develop the most from two weeks after the baby is conceived to the time the baby is three months old. And by the time they are three, children’s brains will have reached 90% of their eventual adult weight. That’s why doctors are even encouraging that moms read to their babies, not only from birth but while they’re still in the womb.

Reading to babies in the womb helps them:

  • Develop a fine ear for certain sounds
  • Become familiar with their mom’s voice
  • Recognise rhythms and patterns of stories

Studies have shown that babies start absorbing language particularly in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, newborns can actually tell the difference between their mother’s native tongue and a foreign language just hours after they’re born. Studies have also shown that, after birth, infants’ heart rates slow down when their mother is speaking – indicating that their mom’s voice has a calming effect on them. Infants also tune into speech patterns faster than you think and begin to recognise “pseudowords”, so reading and telling your unborn baby stories sets the foundation to how they take to language once they’re born.

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Your baby’s brain

But it’s also important to remember that you should maintain your reading routine after your baby is born. They may not understand everything you say yet, but reading to children under the age of three helps them to meet important brain development milestones. In fact, the later you leave introducing your children to books, the more difficult it is for them to develop the literacy skills they need to be successful at school. (It also helps you to find things to say to your little one in those early days of one-sided conversations).

When babies don’t yet understand many words, sharing books with pictures, rhymes and simple stories helps teach them vocabulary and language – and it gets their brains thinking! It’s also a wonderful way to relax and bond with a baby.

“Youngsters grow up seeing reading as fun and worthwhile”

As babies grow, the more you read aloud and talk to them, the more words they hear, and very soon you’ll hear them using the words themselves! They will also find out how the text has meaning and how we tell stories. But most importantly, when parents and caregivers read often to very young children, these youngsters grow up seeing reading as fun and worthwhile.

Instead of experiencing it as a chore, they’ll associate reading with positive emotions – which stem from the day you started reading stories to them in the womb. So, they are more likely to choose to read in their free time when they are older. This is important because the more children read, the better they become at reading … and the more pleasure they get from reading, the more likely they are to read!

For tips on reading to babies and children of all ages, visit www.nalibali.org.