Expert Articles

Reading Feelings: Emotional Development and Literacy

Author: Mary Ann HOOD
Senior Lecturer, Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

A baby’s emotional development can be supported through reading even before birth.  Yes, you read correctly.  An unborn baby can already hear sounds from around 20 weeks and they can hear the soothing sounds of the voice of someone reading to them, even if they do not yet understand the words. Reading to your unborn baby, using a book like “Guess how much I love you?” written by Sam McBratney, will provide you and your baby with special bonding time. 

Once baby is born, their vision is still developing and so choosing books with high contrast black and white pictures in the first three months is a good idea to support their developing brains and eyes.  An example is a book like ‘Look, Look by Peter Linenthal’ or ‘Black White’ by Tana Hoban.  The pictures in these kinds of books hold the baby’s attention and your voice, while you read, provides the language input that all babies need. Reading together with your baby is a very important and enjoyable way to help them learn about language, appreciate books and for you both to bond together.  

It is important for you to allow your baby to hold a storybook as soon as they can.  Babies learn to ‘read’ with their hands and their mouths, so don’t be worried when they put the book into their mouths. Make sure that the books you provide are designed for this purpose.  This gives your baby the opportunity to explore different textures which develops their senses further.  A range of books called ‘Indestructibles’ that were invented by the mother of triplets, Amy Pixton, are perfect for babies from as soon as they can hold them – they are very light. They are chew-proof, rip-proof, and drool-proof, and they are printed on 100% nontoxic material that lives up to its name of being indestructible.  They are also fully washable.  Some of these are wordless books and some have a few words – perfect for you to share with a baby.  It’s very difficult to choose just one – some of my favourites are: ‘Flutter Fly’, ‘Baby, Nighty Night’ and ‘Jungle Rumble’.  These kinds of books are also perfect for your baby to use on their own.  Make sure that they are close at hand ready for your baby to pick up and explore. 

As soon as your baby is mobile, ensure that you have a collection of appropriate, quality children’s books within easy reach for them.  Once they associate reading books with enjoyment, they will seek them out on their own if they are close at hand.  Board books with thick pages are a good addition now as they are easier for your baby to grab and hold and the pages stay open for the baby to ‘study’ them. Praise your baby when they show interest in the books and take some time to share the books with them.  Read the front cover and point at the pictures as you read the words. This helps your baby to make word and sound and picture associations and lays important foundations for future learning.  But remember, you are not teaching your baby to formally read – the most important thing you can do is to encourage your baby to love being read to and this will lead them to love reading too. Books that have simple, repetitive, and familiar text and clear pictures are best for babies.  Some lovely examples of board books are ‘Where is the Green Sheep’ by Mem Fox, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle and ‘Owl Babies’ by Martin Waddell.  And don’t forget about ‘Guess how much I love you’ by Sam McBratney that I referred to earlier.  If you’re not sure which books you like, have a look at your local library – they have a wonderful range – before you buy your own.  However, I recommend buying your own copies of books that babies will put in their mouths for hygiene reasons.  Remember to regularly wipe your baby’s books when you are cleaning and caring for their general wellbeing. Using a white vinegar and water solution is a good practice for this.  Alternatively, commercially available baby wipes can also be used. Ensure that the books are absolutely dry before the baby interacts with them again. 

Make book sharing time a regular daily practice and not only at bedtime.  It does not take long to share a book with a child and the investment of that time will pay off richly.  The topics that are covered in children’s books help them to develop emotional and cognitive skills.  For example, ‘Guess how much I love you’ teaches children about love and supports their sense of security and attachment.  ‘Owl Babies’ develops children’s empathy and caring.  And they learn that mothers always come home.  In addition to these skills, books support children’s thinking skills.  In ‘Where is the Green Sheep’ a child will be stimulated to think about the problem posed.  And they will enjoy the success of finding the Green Sheep at the end.  They will also learn lots of rich vocabulary.   In ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ children will learn about science in an enjoyable way and they will learn that too much junk food gives you a sore tummy!  ‘How do you feel’ by Anthony Brown is a special book that shares different feelings and this is a good book to support the development of the language of emotions.  

All this learning is only one part of the actual reading and should not be the focus of the time you spend with your child.  Always emphasise enjoyment and allow your child to lead the way.  If they are tired and do not want to continue reading, put the book aside and pick it up again later.  It’s vital that stories are a time of enjoyment and not stressful for either parent or child. In laying the foundation of a love of reading, you will have given your child the most amazing gift!  Happy Reading!

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Reading Feelings: Emotional Development and Literacy