Read, Speak, Sing to Your Baby

The Canadian Paediatric Society has produced a video entitled Read, Speak, Sing:  Fun ideas for you and your baby that encourages parents to “think outside the book!”  Singing, rhyming and storytelling are other great ways to nurture your baby’s early literacy skills and to promote their love of reading in the future. Dr Alyson Shaw, an Ottawa-based paediatrician, introduces the video. She says, “While it is nice to surround your baby with lots of different books that are fun for them to look at, it’s not necessary to always have a book.  Sometimes the best stories are the ones you tell yourself, using your own words, about your own life and your child’s experiences.”

Dr Leigh Anne Newhook, a paediatrician from St John’s, Newfoundland, suggests, for example:

  • When walking in the park, put aside adult interactions (such as the cellphone) and focus on the child to talk about what you are seeing as you walk.
  • Take out family pictures and show the child pictures of their siblings, parents and grandparents when they were children.
  • Tell the child stories of what life was like when their parents and grandparents were young children.

Dr Newhook notes, “Babies’ brains are like little sponges!  They are intelligent from birth, and they are picking up on what is going on around them.”  She points out that you don’t need a lot of time to do this in any one session.  It is most important to pick a time that is good for you and for your baby, such as when holding and calming your baby before nap time or bedtime.  Making 5 or 10 minutes of ‘story time’ part of the settling routine before bed is something children come to really look forward to.

Dr Richard Stanwyck, a paediatrician based in Victoria, BC, recommends community-based interactive song and story programming, such as that provided at many libraries, (as well as in our PHAC-funded programs).

When looking at books together, Dr Shaw comments, “At first you may wonder if your baby is even participating in the reading, but if you look at their eyes and you see that they are gazing back at you, or that they may even be imitating some of your facial expressions, or that they are following your finger when you point at the book, that shows that your baby is engaged and is paying attention to what you are doing with them.”

The Caring for Kids website provides an information page for parents entitled Read, speak, sing to your baby:  How parents can promote literacy from birth.

The information sheet offers tips, along with suggested activities in each category, on how to help provide literacy stimulation from the moment your baby is born:

  • Read to your baby
  • Use rhymes, games and songs
  • Talk about what’s going on
  • Babies babble
  • For newborns and young babies, try rhymes that involve gentle touch
  • Reward your baby’s first tries at making sounds with smiles and hugs
  • Once your baby starts talking, help her find the words for the things around her
  • Ask questions, especially “what?” questions
  • Encourage your baby’s involvement, e.g. by pointing to and naming items
  • Sing songs
  • Visit the public library to borrow books and participate in song and story programs

The sheet also provides a detailed development milestones chart related to early literacy, listing for 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-18 months, and 18-24 months:

  • The kind of books that babies like
  • Motor skills related to books
  • Cognitive (thinking) skills related to books
  • What parents can do to help develop literacy skills