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What’s the story, baby?


Tuesday 06 November 2018

Lots of book events take place all across Ireland in October during the annual Children’s Book Festival. These events support literacy, promote a love of books and the joy of reading. But how often is a love of books and reading supported for the youngest members of society in early childhood settings, community settings and at home? In many cases the answer may be daily, but for some infants, being read to or playing with books, is not a regular occurrence.

Some people may think that there’s not much point in reading to babies because they haven’t got the attention span to follow a book, they don’t understand the words or that they won’t benefit from it until they are older. But research conducted in Ireland with 9 month old babies suggests that this is not the case! Data from the Growing Up in Ireland study showed that infants who were read to had higher communication and problem solving skills than those who were not read to. This finding was the case even after we took account of other factors that influence cognitive development, such as the mother’s level of education and whether or not the child was breastfed.

Other research conducted with Irish infants also found that when an infant was read to daily at 6 months old they had higher levels of vocabulary, cognitive and socioemotional skills at 12 months, compared to when they were rarely or never read to. These positive findings link in with the Aistear themes of communicating, exploring and thinking, identity and belonging, and well-being. It’s clear that there are many benefits for infant development from shared book reading experiences in the first year of life. However, the Growing Up in Ireland study, which included over 9,000 infants, also showed that while 80% of 9 month old infants were read to, 20% were not.

Although this research was conducted with infants in a home setting, the findings may have implications for practice in early childhood settings too. Where reading is not already a regular activity in an infant room, it may be beneficial for cognitive and socioemotional development to include it as part of daily activities. Where an opportunity arises, parents might also be advised of the benefits of reading to their infants, either through informal conversation or through posters or information displayed in the setting. In addition to benefiting development during infancy, the broader research on reading to children suggests it has many longer term benefits also, including for academic outcomes.

So grab a good book and settle down for some shared reading – it’s never too soon to start story time!


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Sweet like chocolate: encouraging a taste for reading - Máire Corbett, July 2016 

Dr. Suzanne Egan is a researcher and lecturer in the Department of Psychology in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Her main research interests lie in the area of social cognition and cognitive development. Her research examines the processes involved in imagination, thinking and reasoning and the factors that support cognitive development in young children.

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