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Baby Talk

Your baby can begin to learn to read and write from birth—and you can help. Learn how reading books to infants can help your baby start on the path to literacy before she can sit up.

The best way to help babies become effective readers and writers is to begin by helping them learn to listen and speak. Fortunately, this is usually easy since babies are very skilled at learning language. Indeed, as long as they interact with adults who converse, babies will learn to understand them—and talk with them.

An Easy Way to Talk to Babies:

Read to Them!

Feel awkward talking with babies? What’s an easy way to break the ice? Talk about books. Discussing picture books with babies helps them learn language, partly because books give you something to talk about.

Simple board books are best for newborns. Books like I Can Say Blanket grab babies’ attention with a single, colourful picture of a familiar object, such as a door or a blanket. The plasticized pages are strong enough to withstand teething babies and can be wiped clean. Cuddled up on mom’s lap, even a newborn loves to look at a book. Even a baby more interested in chewing the pages is learning. Recent research shows that when babies learn the names of a pictured object, they can recognize the corresponding 3-D object when they see it in the real world.ii Babies who listen to book reading learn more vocabulary.

What you read your preschooler will help her understand text years later, like knowing–because you read her the picture book King Midas–why we all want a financial advisor with a “Midas touch”.

Use the books you can get your hands on. You can chat about many books in a simple way, even if the book is designed for older children. Mick Inkpen’s Wibbly Pig Opens His Presents will make sense to a toddler who has seen a birthday boy get presents. But you can read that book to a six-month-old. The first sentence is “These are Wibbly Pig’s presents.” This book is from a whimsical set that will lead toddlers to act out scenes, such as camping. Point to the little stack of presents and say something like, “Oh, look at all those presents!” Then point to the pig and say, “There’s the pig.” On the next page you might say, “There are the presents.” Then point to the stuffed bear that Wibbly Pig is now holding and say, “That’s a bear. You’ve got a teddy bear, too.”

Because babies don’t talk back, it can feel a little strange to talk with them. But after chatting your way through a few books, your conversational skills will improve.


I Can Say Blanket. Ann Locke. Illustrated by Louise Batchelor. New York: Zero to Ten, Ltd. Distributed by Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, 1996. 1-84089-020-7.
Paul Bloom. Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

Wibbly Pig Opens His Presents. Mike Inkpen. New York: Viking Books, 2000.