Bridget Watson Payne has a lot of titles that go with her name, among them: writer, artist, art book editor, teacher, speaker and founder of Open Studio, a shared work/learning/retail space in San Francisco. She’s the author of six books, including the recently released The Secret Art of Being A Parent. When this force of nature agreed to share some advice with Parentology readers, we jumped at the opportunity. Here’s her insight about reading to babies.
In my new book, The Secret Art of Being a Parent, there’s a bit that goes: “Read to your kid a lot. Here’s a secret: When they’re an infant you can even read them your own book or magazine or whatever you’d like to be reading yourself. They just like hearing your voice.”
Think about it. If you’re a mom, for nine months, during the entire time this person is busy growing their own ears, they hear your voice. Probably sort of muffled and echo-y, but still recognizably your own unique timbre and cadence. Talking, talking, talking, all day long. On the phone, at the store, doing your job. Gossiping, complaining, consoling, laughing. Practically all the time.
Of course, they didn’t know it was your voice. They didn’t know there was such a thing as a voice, or a you, or even a them, for that matter. It was just the constant low-level burble that went along with existence. Your voice was, in a very literal way, their home.
Same goes for partners’ voices. If mom lives with a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, baby is also hearing that person’s recognizable pitch and tone day-in and day-out. And when you’re standing at the sink doing dishes, and your significant other is at the stove stirring a pot, and the two of you are talking about your days at work, your little one hears your voices all braided together.
We all know reading to children is good for them. A million PSA’s and library posters and parenting books have made sure of that. Mostly these messages are delivered from a literacy perspective — the earlier you read to your kid, the more comfortable they get with words and books, and the easier reading and writing are going to go for them when they get older. Or, even more fundamentally: a baby’s brain is hardwired to learn language, and the more of a language they hear, the more of it they can learn. This argument would certainly be enough to be convincing all by itself.
But there’s more. When parents read to the baby or talk to the baby, they’re recreating that old in-utero soundtrack: the background noise that always went along with being warm and held tight, with never being hungry or uncomfortable. Can you think of anything more comforting? If you could listen to a sound like that, wouldn’t it soothe you and make you feel safe? By reading to your baby, you’re giving them a gift.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be only reading. Many a parenting expert will tell you to talk to your baby when the two of you are alone together. Keep up a running monologue. “Ok, let me just get my shoes on and then we’ll go out for a walk. Do you think I need a sweater? I got kind of cold at the park yesterday. Maybe the green one. Or the blue one? Which do you like better, green or blue?” That sort of thing.
Obviously you’re going to talk to the person you’re with, never mind they can’t talk back, have no idea what you’re talking about and seem more interested in chewing on their own socks than the sounds coming out of your mouth. But it’s more than a one-sided conversation. You’re giving your child language, you’re giving them solace.
To learn more about Bridget Watson Payne and to purchase her books visit https://bridgetwatsonpayne.com/ Want some reading suggestions for your little ones? Parentology has several “must-read” lists for all ages from preschoolers to teens.