For a baby, learning new words for objects, events, actions and feelings is a considerable task. A helpful way to assist your baby in developing their language skills and word-learning is to share a book with them.
Proven benefits of book-sharing
Numerous studies have looked at the way parents talk to their children in different situations, and have found that sharing a picture book with a baby is one of the best ways to spend time naming objects for a child. They also provide an opportunity for reacting responsively to the sounds children make and the pictures they show the most interest in.
More frequent book-sharing between children and their parents reliably predicts better language and literacy skills later on in life. The research findings in this area are so consistent and so strong that book-sharing is seen as one of the very best ways to help a child acquire language.
Why is book-sharing so effective?
Key to the effectiveness of book-sharing with young children is the opportunity it presents for starting conversations, as these are the structure around which an adult can help promote the development of a child’s language and vocabulary, as well as their social understanding.
‘Dialogic reading’, where the parent takes their cue from the baby and supports their active participation, has been shown to be particularly helpful in encouraging enjoyment and leading to motivated readers in later childhood.
Pointing, labeling, responding to areas of interest, and asking open-ended questions that extend beyond the content of the book all help a child to understand unfamiliar objects or concepts.
Providing warm, affectionate contact while book-sharing establishes a pattern that children will want to repeat, and will initiate themselves over time.
Special features of baby books
Picture books for infants embody specific features that make them an especially effective method of language learning over and above any other. The simplest books will show one, or perhaps just a few things on each page, without fussy background detail that could lead to uncertainty about the nature of the main topic, while simple lines and colours are used to emphasize the key features.
Repetition is often used with only minor variations from the core elements of a picture, to help a child understand the essential characteristics of a real-world object.
Picture books also allow a baby to come back to the image again and again. In the real world, an action or emotion might be fleeting and hard to note and process, but in a picture book, a baby can spend more time grasping the meaning behind an expression or intention.
They also allow children to learn the names for things they may not encounter in everyday life – jungle animals, for instance.
Last, but not least, experience with baby books lays the foundations for eventual literacy skills through showing which way up a book is held, how to turn a page, or learning to read from left to right (in most languages).
The role sharing pictures books can play in promoting infant cognitive development is discussed in Lynne Murray’s most recent book The Psychology of Babies: How relationships support development from birth to two.