It may sound crazy to talk about helping your child to read and write when they are first born, but so much of what we do as parents in the early months and years has an impact on their future learning.
When I had my first child, I used soothing music whilst feeding and didn’t really consider bedtime stories as I assumed she was too young. As soon as my new baby arrived, I already had an established routine with my toddler that included reading stories. I was amazed to see how excited and involved this little bundle of muslins was in the colours, textures and rhythms of the books. Having trained in children’s literacy for over six years, I now know why.
Long before newborns are able to see clearly, their strongest sense is smell. The ability to recognise the mother before they can rely on visual confirmation is an age old reflex developed to ensure safety.
The second strongest sense in the early months is hearing. We are born with a vast hearing range which deteriorates with age.
The high frequencies are particularly susceptible to loud noise and given our penchant for loud music in adolescence they rarely survive into adulthood unscathed. You will have noticed how infants love it when you speak to them in a high-pitched, sing-song voice.
As new babies develop in the early months their sight goes from fuzzy black and white images into fuzzy colour images until at around eight months the healthy child has 20:20 vision. If you have ever wondered why your newborn is smiling at the lamp shade and not you, this could be a clue!
Another phenomenon I distinctly remember was the baby’s fascination with something that wasn’t there. Remember soothing them at bedtime and their attention being completed fixed on something behind you? No, they are not seeing ghosts; they are looking at the high contrast between the dark bedroom and the bright light coming from the hall. If you look at a situation from a young baby’s perspective you can start to see why they are attracted to certain scenes.
Given this information, it is no wonder then that a young baby enjoys being read to. The closeness of their mother (smell) the familiar sound of her voice (hearing) and the visual stimulation of high contrast images (sight). More than that, it is the familiarity of speech that really helps children at school-age begin to put letters to sounds.
English is a fairly complex language in that there are many words that sound very similar. The wider vocabulary you use with a young child the higher their understanding when it comes to starting nursery and learning the forty-four phonemes that make up the English language.
Things to do with your baby 0-6 Months
Babies get tired quickly and have short attention spans, so don’t spend too long on each activity. In the first six months of life babies change and develop rapidly. Some ideas are ideal for a newborn whilst others won’t appeal until your baby is at least three months old.
Show baby high contrast picture cards and talk about them
Use their name when playing “Peepo” so they recognise family names: Where’s Ella? There she is! Where’s Daddy? And so on.
Most of this is instinctual. We all hold our babies close to our face, (smell) use a high sing-song voice (hearing) and use wide-eyes (high contrast) when communicating. It is nice to know that we are not just being soppy, we really are teaching them!
Was there anything in this post that suprised you? I would be really interested to hear your comments: It would be nice to give you useful information and not “teach you how to suck eggs!”