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There is a cultural difference.

Where I come from there is no concept of reading story books as a bed time ritual to babies. Though I do remember my father telling me mythological stories in order to divert my attention from food so that I could forget about the tastelessness (IMO) of the food and eat it quickly.

I would like to know that besides making the baby sleep and eat properly, are there any other long term benefits in reading story books to babies?

At what age should the process be started?

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3 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

There are several potential advantages:

Literacy: Being functionally literate is practically a requirement for modern life, and the greater your comfort with the written word, the easier it is to acquire knowledge. Reading to your child encourages them to think of books as "normal" things, and starts this process early.

Entertainment: One of the key things you want with a baby is the ability to self-sooth. Baby books are both intensely tactile objects, and look like the books that adults read, both of which are very attractive to babies.

Bonding: By reading to your child, you're committing to sitting and talking with them in a way you don't necessarily do the rest of the day. Unlike "conversing" with your child, where they obviously can't respond (which can get irrationally discouraging after 6-8 months), reading is a way to communicate that doesn't suffer from a lack of response.

Language: In the same way as singing, baby books are highly repetitive in terms of the words used, which helps to introduce them to basic words.

As far as when to start, we started reading from about 1-2 weeks, while walking the baby to sleep. At that point, it was mostly just so she could hear the sound of our voices. She's now a year old, and while she obviously can't read, her cardboard books are some of her favourite toys (and I generally hand her one of my books when I'm trying to change her and she won't sit still).

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Fantastic answer! :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 13 '13 at 19:43
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Regarding the bonding point, newborns love looking at their parents and so if you sit and read in such a way that they can stare at you from the magic 12" range where they can focus, they love that. –  justkt May 14 '13 at 12:04
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In addition to the literacy, entertainment, bonding, and language, I would add:

  • values. Whether you read stories that actively tell stories of your religion and culture, or just ones that have the same "backstory", the books you read help to centre your child in your values. To use a North American example, if you read a story where one of the actions in the story involves the whole family being at church, that can either resonate with what your family does or conflict. If you read a story where there's a Thanksgiving dinner with a big turkey, that can resonate or conflict. And so on.

  • specific situations. It will be a while till this applies, but you can find tons of childrens books about losing teeth, starting school, learning to use the toilet, getting a new sibling, moving to a new house and so on. These can be used as conversation starters or as context in a conversation: "you seem worried about X. Remember when Y was worried in that story? And it worked out fine, remember?"

  • music. Many books urge the reader (typically a parent) to sing something, which they might not otherwise do. This increases the fun value and exposes the child to music. It may also cause you to realize you sing better than you think.

  • education. You will learn the names of some animals you didn't know, or construction equipment, or sporting equipment, or how an airport works, or something, I guarantee it. So will your child, of course. It's fun to learn stuff, and yes, there are things to be learned from books for tiny babies. (All the more so if other people buy you books for the baby like A Day At The Farm or Animal Noises.)

I also find that a handful of books brings calm and normalcy to stressful situations, especially when you and the baby are away from home. I remember making an offer to buy this house - we had already agreed to sell our house with a very short date, and if we didn't buy this one, we would have to cancel the vacation we were about to leave on, or risk having nowhere to live. We were waiting in the car while our offer was being considered, and I was so stressed I started reading to my toddler just to calm myself down :-). It worked, we all stayed calm, we got the house and had the vacation too. That was 22 years ago but the cover of that book makes me smile to this day.

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thanks much for the useful reply. –  TheIndependentAquarius May 15 '13 at 3:50
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This is simple:

It is fun.

I have always enjoyed reading stories to my kids. I started when they were bumps in their mother's tum. When they are born, and you can see them listening, it gets more fun.

Oh it probably aids their learning blah blah blah, but honestly, who cares? The important thing is that you are having some quality time with your child.

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