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5 Speech, Language & Social-Emotional Benefits of Reading to Your Baby

You may have heard that it’s important to read with your baby from an early age, but have you ever wondered why? Or if it’s really doing anything? Today, Katie and Carly, two moms, speech-language pathologists, and the founders of Wee Talkers, are sharing everything caregivers need to know about how their baby benefits from reading. Keep scrolling for valuable insight and tips for making reading with your baby a part of your everyday routine.

As a caregiver, it may feel a little silly reading when your baby doesn’t fully understand the stories yet. Some babies are wiggly and always on the go. Others just want to chew on the books! But as speech-language pathologists and moms ourselves, we can promise that every time you open a book, you’re giving your baby an incredible gift.

Reading together helps your baby make valuable connections that will serve them throughout their lives. And as their caregiver, you’ll benefit from the experience, too. Ready to make reading with your baby a daily habit? This post will teach you why it’s worth doing, and how to make reading simple, doable, and fun!

Meet Your Speech Therapists

The faces behind Wee Talkers, Katie Sterbenz & Carly Tulloch.

Hi! We’re Katie and Carly, the faces behind Wee Talkers. We’re pediatric speech therapists with over 20 years of combined experience, but first and foremost, we’re parents—just like you. Between us, we have six kids, and they all have unique needs, so we’re in it with you! Our goal is to help you raise confident kids and support your child at home because you’re the very best person for the job.

The Speech, Language & Social-Emotional Benefits of Reading With Your Baby

Reading with your child provides them with so many developmental benefits. As speech-language pathologists, we often talk about all of the language and literacy benefits of reading to your baby (like how it teaches new words and concepts that help children communicate). However, the social-emotional benefits (like learning to understand themselves, their world, and those around them) are incredibly important, too. And if you’re looking to learn how to teach a child patience, reading is a great option.

Here are five of the most impactful ways that reading with your baby supports their speech, language, and social-emotional development:

#1 Reading Fosters Connection & Bonding

At its very foundation, communication is a shared connection between two people. When you communicate with someone, in any situation, a message is always being exchanged. That exchange requires a back-and-forth interaction which begins to form between you and your baby from the time they're born.

In the beginning, that reciprocity happens when you respond to their coos and eye gazes. Over time, it builds up as they develop more communication skills—like using gestures and sounds to get your attention. Eventually, it develops into the typical back-and-forth, responsive interaction that we think of when we imagine talking to or signing with another person. Because communication like this is developmental, meaning it builds over time, the early interactions you have with your baby, through connection-driven activities like talking, singing, and reading, are absolutely essential. 

Bonus! Making a reading habit ritual also helps foster a sense of predictability and routine, which babies thrive on.

#2 Reading Exposes Your Baby to Emotion & Feeling Words

Long before your child will ever communicate their emotions and feelings to you, you can help them start to understand their emotional experiences by exposing them to emotion and feeling words. Simple activities like naming emotions and talking about feelings both in real time (like when they’re experiencing a big feeling) and proactively (when you read with your baby) go a long way. We love how Slumberkins make this so easy and doable for parents!

#3 Reading Helps Build Their Understanding of the World 

Typically, when we think of language, we think of talking and communicating. But language is actually broken down into two distinct skill sets: receptive and expressive language.

Expressive Language: The ability to express wants and needs and share ideas through verbal or nonverbal communication.

Receptive Language: The ability to understand and comprehend language.

Before a child begins to speak, they first need to build up those receptive language skills—their comprehension of language and the world around them. This happens from day one with your baby, throughout their first year of life and beyond, as they build experiences of talking, reading, singing, and interacting with you. Receptive language skills aren't always as obvious as skills such as verbal communication, but they are absolutely crucial to your child's language development. Know that even if they aren't talking about the things they see on the page, they are making essential connections. As a caregiver, keep in mind to use positive language when communicating with your child. This can help uplift them as they learn to communicate.

#4 Reading Promotes Early Literacy & School Preparation

Just like speech and language, reading is developmental. There are tons of little mini-skills that support your child’s ability to learn to read. These skills (and many others!) start to develop during your child’s first year of life. By reading books with your baby, you're helping them learn early, essential pre-literacy skills, like:

  • Taking in a bright, simple illustration
  • Holding a book
  • Attempting to turn pages
  • Sharing books with adults as a routine part of life
  • Showing interest in familiar vocabulary

Reading with your baby also fosters a love of books that will serve them well into adulthood. Sitting down, reading, and connecting together gives our young children positive memories of reading and happy associations with reading books. This lays the groundwork for a lifelong love of reading that will set them up for success in school and beyond!

#5 Reading Boosts Your Baby’s Vocabulary

When it comes to development, infancy is an incredible and critical period of time. From birth to three years, your child’s brain is growing more rapidly than it ever will again. Your input (think reading, talking, singing, and playing together) is invaluable—kind of like nutrition for the brain! 

As parents, one of the things we want to be intentional about during this critical period is introducing our babies to a variety of words and concepts, because it helps support their brain development. Thankfully, regular reading makes this easy! Books open up entirely new worlds to a reader. By reading to your baby, you’re exposing them to so many more words than they would typically hear on a regular day at home.

Making Reading Part Of Your Baby’s Routine

Taking the time to connect, interact, and build a loving relationship with your baby through reading is unlike anything else. That said, we know it can be hard to read with a wiggly, curious baby. Try these few simple tips that make regular reading fun and keep babies engaged.

Read Face-To-Face⁣

Everyone loves a snuggly lap reading session, but it can benefit your baby to read face-to-face as well.⁣ This way, your reader sees your facial expressions, gestures, and movements instead of just hearing your voice.

Tip: Try this out during tummy time, in the bath, or even when they’re in their highchair.⁣

Be Animated⁣

⁣Using an enthusiastic, animated tone will increase your baby’s interest and keep them engaged.⁣ (Feel a bit silly doing this? We get it! Check out this IG reel on why you never have to apologize for using your mom voice—or any voice, really!) Being animated really helps the words come to life.

Follow Your Baby’s Lead⁣

⁣It’s okay if your baby is ready to move on from a good book quickly or if they want to stay on one specific page the majority of the time. Go with the flow and talk about whatever they seem interested in. The “proper” book reading, from cover, to cover, will come in time.

Make Books Accessible⁣

⁣Crawling babies are always eager to empty baskets or shelves, so why not load yours up with emotional growth books? This way, books are available all day, instead of just at bedtime.⁣ This is where we give you permission to NOT read all the words on the page! It’s okay to think of books like one of your child’s toys, instead of a formal, sit-down activity.

Free Resources Just For You

If you like learning about your baby’s speech and language development, we have a free guide we know you’ll love! Our Baby Bundle gives you everything you need to know, do, and watch for communication-wise from birth to 12 months. It includes:

  • Baby Language Milestones Checklist
  • Tips for Encouraging Language Development
  • Baby Song Video (for you to try with your baby!)

If you’re looking for more books to read with your young one, consider Slumberkins’ books on connection––and maybe add one of our snugglers to your reading session as you cuddle up together!

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