Word for Word: Bright idea brings babies to book
Tanya Fay, left, from Clonmellon, Co Westmeath and her baby Rihanna and Nadejda Onofrej from Moldova with her baby Julia at the 2008 launch of a reading project at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street. Photograph: Frank Miller
Last week the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown library service, in south Co Dublin, announced an imaginative partnership with local health centres to encourage reading to babies.
Every baby attending its nine-month developmental check-up will be invited to visit a library to pick up a free baby bag containing an English- or Irish-language book, an information leaflet about the scheme, and tips for reading to babies, as well as encouragement to join the library. It’s a wonderful idea that can only benefit the babies, their parents, the libraries and, indirectly, the health services.
Life with a baby can be busy, especially when there are other children. But it’s worth making that precious time when a baby is put down for the evening to sit and read to them, even when they’re tiny. They begin to associate that quiet time with stories, with closeness to the people who love them, with a peaceful atmosphere.
And, as they grow, they notice that books are things that contain new worlds, exciting adventures, interesting language. Very soon they will want to turn the pages and point things out in the pictures, not to mention eat the book. (That’s why they make cloth and board books.)
Then they’ll start repeating words, and bit by bit they’ll start learning to read, finally becoming more autonomous in their search for books to suit their curiosity. Which is where developing the habit of trips to the library comes in, opening a new world during childhood.
These days there are interactive books on tablets, recordings of stories told by famous actors, and all manner of animated stories to tickle young readers’ fancy, but they are adjuncts to the core activity. It seems to me that the sound of the voice of a parent, other close relative or friend telling the story has a special value. And I’m convinced it helps to make them clear speakers.
If the babies spend more time with one parent during the day, reading to them offers opportunities for the other parent to develop a close relationship. When the habit of having an adult read aloud is established, then relatives and friends can step in and build their own bond with tiny nieces or nephews. I have a friend who tells bedtime stories once a week to her Australian grandchildren via Skype.
So well done to the library and the health services for a long-term investment in the health of their future citizens.
Doireann Ní Bhríain is a broadcaster, producer and voice-presentation trainer