by Susan Hawkins

Even when baby's just a big bump in your belly, reading to your imminent infant will boost learning potential after birth and beyond. Research shows that infants and children who are exposed to an abundance of language, both in books and conversation, do better scholastically. When you receive books as baby shower gifts, don't store them on a shelf in baby's room awaiting his (or her!) arrival - settle into a comfy chair with a cool glass of lemonade on the table beside you and read out loud! Baby is definitely listening!

According to studies, babies can pick up music and sound before birth, and even more so as a newborn. All babies are born with the ability to understand and distinguish the languages of their environment.  They respond to the language, sounds and rhythm of your speech. Besides its calming influence, reading to your baby is an excellent way to begin and continue bonding. An added bonus? You're developing your child's imagination as well as a lifelong love of books and reading. What's more, the mere act of reading is an intimate time between you and your child - who will feel very safe and especially loved during those moments.

With your infant, choose books that aren't too long, and make an assessment as to whether baby is in the mood to be read to. Make sure you're both in a comfortable position for reading and listening. Babies like books that are colorful, with pop-ups or sounds to capture their attention. When reading, use a sing-song, gentle voice to soothe those tiny ears. Your baby zeros in on your voice and learns through your vocal intonations and inflections. Focusing on the book's pictures develops their eye muscles. When baby hears a word or a sound or sees an image, the imprint is impressed strongly on the brain, and brains learn by doing and by repetition. Also keep in mind that, when baby is teething, a book may be more appealing as a chew toy, so be sure the books you're reading at this stage of life can handle that kind of usage.  

In time, your baby will participate actively at reading time. More complex, interactive books are designed for sensory development in children. Pop-up books, books that feature textures, smells and sounds take sensory development to the next level. Begin pointing at pictures and saying the names of things. If there are textures involved, have the baby touch the picture. Talk about the pictures and go beyond what the book may say about a particular image. Have your baby point at pictures after you say the name. Slowly but surely, they are expanding their vocabulary and language skills.  

There are a number of outstanding books for very young listeners. Among them are "Pat the Bunny", "Goodnight, Moon", and "Shapes and Colors". Because babies like to look at other babies, pick up "Baby Faces". Fun, interactive books can provide many happy, reading hours for parent and child - "Diggety the Dog Puppet and Play Book" or "Frenchy the Frog Puppet and Play Book" are just two in a clever series of interactive options.  Whether starting off your day, heading into nap time or just before bedtime, read a book with your baby. Every word brings a world of wonder into your home.