Remember how you felt the first time your secret crush looked at you? That is nothing compared to your baby’s gaze at you. He looks at you in the eyes and you feel like you’re in heaven. You are then compelled to talk to him. It’s an automatic reaction. It is as if the baby is expecting you to interact with him. The truth is, your baby is really expecting something with that eye-contact!
In these moments, your “cootsie-coo” or the cute but utterly senseless “dah-dah-dah-dah,baby?” or “ ah- ba-ba-ba-ba...” babble, wouldn’t be enough. Of course, another way would be to make your baby giggle endlessly with your “peek-a-boo” However, you’re not waiting till your baby turns blue before you stop, are you?
The totally senseless sounds you make just to entertain your bundle of joy could only go on if you don’t mind being totally senseless for a longer period. Usually, it is you who gives up first. And the baby looks at you as if telling you not to stop. This is the time when you usually start talking to your baby with real words -- This is where the story-telling comes in handy.
.... and then you read to your baby.
If you have been talking to your baby while he was still inside his mother’s womb, unbeknown to you, something almost magical is unfolding with this first time face-to-face talking and reading to your baby.
He remembers your voice!
According to the latest scientific findings, a developing fetus can hiccup and actually reacts to loud noises as early as on its ninth week. Your baby dreams, can taste the food that the mother eats, and he actually starts hearing by the end of the second trimester. In fact, he can distinguish the voices of his Mom from another person.
Research shows that a fetus’ heart rate slows down when his mother is speaking – this means he is calmed by the mother’s voice. Furthermore, the fetus responds to a familiar story (a story that has been repeatedly read to him while he’s inside the womb) and he prefers to listen to it over a new story read to him after birth.
Although there are no scientific findings to show that the baby appreciates the story that you read, reading to your baby (especially if you start while he is still inside his mother’s womb) becomes his first social encounter with you – this is your first bonding. Your voice becomes one of the first stimuli that he can identify with and connect to you. It would then become very important for the Mom to read aloud to the baby while he is inside the womb. Well, you can just talk but it would appear crazy, right? Besides, if you just ramble on, you might forget yourself and you might end up talking about something that pisses you off.
Here are some simple tips for reading to your baby:
• Pick a book that will become your baby’s favourite. Don’t worry if you find your baby prefers one single book read to him over and over. Don’t insist on introducing new ones if it is not welcomed. Babies learn by repetition. They may not even understand anything about it – they just love to hear the sound of your voice, and the familiarity of the words read to him. Pick a book that has simple, repetitive words. It would be better if the words rhyme, so you can read it in a sing-song voice.
• Pick a book with simple and large pictures of familiar objects against solid backgrounds. It would also help if it is one of those board books that could survive the baby’s hands, spit, and bites. You would also want to make sure it is always clean as the baby would always want to put it in his mouth.
• When reading, you don’t need to always start from the first page. You can immediately go to the baby’s favourite page (it might be because of the picture, or it might be because it is the part where your reading becomes very expressive – read with exaggerated voice expression; use different voices for different story characters; make animal sounds, or say “chug-chug-chug...tooot! toot!” when you’re reading about a train. You don’t have to finish the book in every sitting, too. Remember, the baby still does not understand the story.
• When reading, you don’t have to totally leave everything to what the author has written. You may interrupt the story every now and then to interact with the baby (this is specially so if the baby can already respond or point), e.g., “See? There’s goes the baby duck...Where’s the baby duck? Yes...that’s the baby duck. It goes, ‘quack! Quack’. What’s the sound of the duck?” Or point at the drawings or pictures and say, “This is the house. It is a red house...” etc.
The first five years of a human being’s life are a time of incredible growth and learning. Reading to your child gives him his first encounter with words, colors, numbers, letters and shapes. Constantly reading to your baby imprints these concepts in their minds. Reading becomes a part of your baby’s life. As months pass, notice how your baby behaves when he sees you holding his favourite book. He may even try to grab it from you, may help you flip the pages, point at objects, or he may even surprise you with a “Quack! Quack!” when he sees the duck.