Even if we know that reading to children is important—just as important as feeding your child nourishing food— reading to young children can be confusing, difficult, even a contest of wills.
When it comes to one-year-olds, in particular, don’t be fooled by the gibberish. Just because your child can’t speak more than a few words doesn’t mean she can’t comprehend what you’re saying. When you say certain words—like baby, nap, bottle, and kitty—your child reacts. She understands.
A recent study called “Maternal Emotion Talk Lowers Risk for Behavioral Problems in At Risk Toddlers” [J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2015; 0:1-9] even showed that mothers who use emotional descriptive tools (called emotional bridging) while looking at a book with their toddler, lowered the risk of behavioral problems in the toddler. This shows that when parents provide emotional descriptors, children benefit from having these words to associate with their experience.
Given the benefit of reading to even pre-verbal children, here are 4 ways to help you read with your one-year-old:
- Ask a lot of questions. In Born Reading, Jason Boog, former publishing editor of Media Bistro writes, “Questions are the foundation of interactive reading, and you can ask them even before your child can answer with words. Be sure to ask questions before, during, and after the experience.”
- Dramatize the story. Don’t be afraid of using sweeping gestures and literally act out certain parts of the story you’re reading. If a character is drinking water, pretend to drink water. This will help your child match concepts to words.
- Make animal sounds. “Mooo, says the cow.” “Meow, says the kitty.” Associating sounds with animals doesn’t just make the story more fun, but it teaches your child to connect a particular sound with a particular animal. This helps on number of cognitive levels, too, because it associates audio and visual cues simultaneously.
- Imitate, imitate, imitate. Encourage imitation all the time. If your child says “baba” when pointing to her bottle. Say, “yes, bottle” and praise her. Look for other opportunities to imitate sounds and words, too. “Look at that, sweetie. What is that? Yes, car. The car goes vroom.”
- Use emotional terms when describing what’s happening in the book: Even if you are reading a picture book, name the emotions the character might be feeling. Relate this emotion to your child’s own experience.
Reading with your one-year-old takes some patience and planning, but it’s worth it. And if all else fails, you can always just take the advice of young children’s book author Mo Willems: “Yell and act a little crazy. That’s also my advice for visiting the DMV.”