Books Are the Best Gift You Can Give to a New Baby

The arrival of a new baby is such an exciting time: you might be thinking about where baby will sleep, which pram to buy and how many newborn-sized outfits you’ll need. But have you thought about books? Lots of people think that books are for learning to read, but many don’t realise that children benefit enormously from books a long time before that.

Why books for your baby?

Reading books to your baby gives them the very best start in life: hearing your voice is vital. During the first few months, just the sound of your voice is soothing as your baby adjusts to life in the outside world. But it’s not only comforting. As babies grow and develop, hearing speech helps them to learn language—to understand that those sounds you’re making are words, which can be used to communicate.

You’ve probably been told by your midwife or health visitor to talk to your baby all the time by giving them a running commentary on what you’re doing, whether it’s changing their nappy or walking to the park. Until six months, babies should be in buggies that face you, so they can see your face as you speak.

Reading books to your baby is the perfect way to make sure you’re talking and helping them to develop these vital pre-language skills. There are plenty of books which are suitable, even for tiny babies, (anything with high contrast pictures is great for the first weeks after that bright colours will appeal) and which undergo stringent safety checks to make sure they are safe and non-toxic. This is essential when babies are exploring the world by putting everything in their mouths!

Books develop your baby’s senses and communication

As babies start to reach out and coordinate their hands, they will enjoy feeling different textures. Look for books with touchy-feely patches. It won’t be long before your baby can lift flaps and peep under them. Don’t worry if all they want to do at first is lift all the flaps, one by one, it’s great that they want to explore independently. Small children often want to look at the same book again and again. Let them—like any new skill, learning to talk requires practice and that means hearing the same sounds and words over and over.

As you’re sharing a book, point to things on the page and talk about what you see. ‘Look, there’s the moon!’, ‘That one’s got a hat on’, ‘the bee goes buzzzzz’—it doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as your baby can hear you speaking. When they get a bit older, and they’ve heard the words plenty of times, they’ll start to understand what you’re saying. This happens before they start to say their first words. Try asking questions: ‘Can you see the little mouse? Where’s the blue car?’ You will be amazed when they start pointing things out and showing they’ve understood. This is hugely rewarding for little children who can’t yet talk because it means they can communicate with you.

Repetition is key

Choose books with plenty of repetition, so that children know what to expect each time they read them. This will help them to understand how a book works and gives them the satisfaction of knowing what will happen next. Eventually, they’ll make the connection between what’s on the page and what you’re saying. This is the start of understanding reading and writing: the knowledge that the black shapes are letters, that letters form words, and that words sound the same every time you hear them.

Every child is different, but most children are about two when they start saying recognisable words and putting them together in sentences, which get longer and more complex over time. Keep reading and sharing books. If you say, ‘where’s the little mouse’ every time, sooner or later they will start pointing it out to you—‘mouse!’ Hearing those first words is a joy, and spending plenty of time with books has been proven to help children learn to talk.

The power of routine, rhythm and rhyme

Sharing books of rhymes and songs is a great way to introduce babies and toddlers to the patterns of language and the way that words work. Children can practise pronunciation and rhythm; widen their vocabulary and improve speaking and memory skills. Many also introduce early learning concepts such as counting, time and the weather in a fun way.

Books are also a vital part of a good bedtime routine. Sharing books is a lovely excuse to cuddle up together at the end of the day. Try to do bath, book, bed, each night in the same order. Once your child is in pyjamas, snuggle up together and read to them with a soothing voice. At the end of the book, close it and put it away.

Finally, remember that there is no right or wrong way to share books with your child—showing them books, letting them turn the pages, reading the words or just talking about the pictures are all really beneficial for their development and pave the way for learning to read and write later on. Just remember to keep book sessions short and fun, and always be led by your child.

Books make brilliant gifts, so if friends and family ask for present ideas: a book will give a lot of pleasure, for a long time. And remember to join your local library, where there are lots of books that you can read for free. Many also run story and rhyme sessions for babies and toddlers.

Felicity Brooks is an editorial director and writer at Usborne Publishing, the UK’s leading children’s book publisher. She studied English and Drama at Exeter University and worked as an actor, teacher and lexicographer before starting work in children’s publishing in the late 1980s. She has written and edited hundreds of children’s books, including stories and novelty books for pre-schoolers and books about history, geography, languages, science, maths, nature and the arts. Her books have won the TES Senior Information Book Award, the Aventis Science Books Prize, the SLA Information Book Award, the Sheffield Baby Books Award and Practical Pre-school Gold and Silver Awards.

Usborne is the UK’s leading children’s book publisher: an independent, family business creating engaging, innovative, accessible books for children of all ages. Usborne books are written with children in mind and are there for every age and stage from newborn baby to young adult. Children can grow with Usborne books. For distinctive, enriching books for children, look for the Usborne balloon.

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