Babies enter this world with great curiosity and a willingness to learn. The first three years of life, and some may say the first eight years of life, will be the most important learning time for your baby. During this time baby pathway connections in his brain are being developed as he makes sense of things in his world. Reading to your baby and teaching him sign language are two ways to boost your baby’s language development.

In a July 2006 issue of WebMD, Jennifer Warner states that it is never too early to read to your children. Researchers from the study found children in low-income families had better language comprehension and cognitive development if their mothers read to them at an early age.1 ReadToYourBaby.com is a website dedicated to helping families with reading. In their experience, “Children who have had books in their lives between birth and five will become the future highest achievers with a lifelong love of learning.”2

Even before a baby is born, he can hear the sound of how language works. Reading to baby before he is born will help him start to understand his native language. Babies can become familiar with the rhythm of sentences, how the voice is lowered at the close of a sentence or how the voice’s tone rises when a question is asked.

Reading is the most natural way to teach your baby. Books are easy to get and are a great way to introduce learning. KidsHealth.org suggests books do more than entertain. Books teach babies about communication. Books can introduce concepts. Baby can learn about numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. Books can help baby learn how to listen, build memory skills, introduce new words, and provide additional information about the world he lives in. How a book is read can give baby information about emotions as the reader uses expressive sounds. Baby can learn about socialization, which helps with emotional health.3

Babies like books with bright colors and contrasting patterns. As baby matures, she will show more interest in books by grabbing and trying to turn pages. Baby will even demonstrate her preferences about which book or story she prefers.

To gain the most when reading to your baby, ReadToYourBaby.com suggests doing so in a quiet place, holding and comforting your baby, and starting on any page.4 Read with expression, and stop once in a while to ask a question. Books that are repetitive in nature will help baby learn, and it’s good to read the same stories several times. Try singing the words for added interest. And be sure to cuddle! Being close to baby while you are reading makes your baby feel safe and connected to you. And remember, baby loves the sound of your voice.

Andrew Meltzoff is co-director at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. The Institute conducts research about how newborns learn and develop. The April 2010 edition of Scholastic Parent and Child quotes Meltzoff: “Babies seem to learn language best from people. Parents and caretakers instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze, and social signals to support language acquisition.”5 The article explains how language is the way to develop higher verbal IQs for babies but cautions it must be carried out via two-way communication.

There is much controversy about babies and toddlers who watch TV, DVDs, or tapes for learning. Studies from the University of Washington found that “8 to 16 month old infants who regularly watched TV actually understood fewer words than babies who did not watch TV at all.”6 Roberta M. Bolinkoff, in her book titled How Babies Talk, suggests TV watching may help with naming objects, but it does nothing to facilitate developing a language. It is only through interactive, conversational, turn-taking that children develop a thorough understanding of language.7 The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “recommends that children under two years of age should not watch any TV, and those older than two should watch no more than one to two hours a day of quality programming. The first two years of life are considered a critical time for brain development. TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others.”8