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Guide for Dads: Reading Aloud to Babies, Part 1

Author George Jacobs Ph.D. and Wan Loh Inn Ed.D.
Submitted 25-02-2008

Dads can begin reading to children as soon as they are born. Reading aloud to babies teaches them the sounds of the language, forms a pleasant association with books, stretches their attention span and offers us something fun to do with these cute little creatures.


Amazingly, research led by Anthony DeCasper shows that babies respond to being read to even before they are born! For example, the researchers found that after birth, babies’ sucking patterns and heart beat changed when they heard passages that their mothers had read to them in the final trimester of the pregnancies.

Mem Fox is a well-known children’s author as well as being a university lecturer and the author of a book on reading aloud with the great name of Reading Magic. She recounts how a teacher education student of hers gave birth while doing her university studies.


The new mother was torn between spending time with her son, on one hand, and working on her studies, on the other hand. So, she decided to do both at the same time by reading aloud to her baby from the books and articles she needed to prepare her assignments. As Fox tells it, “The baby never knew the difference. He was lulled by the sound of his mother’s calming voice and by the comforting knowledge that she was there with him” (p. 29).


Jim Trelease, author of the landmark Read Aloud Handbook recounts a remarkable story of the power of reading aloud to very young children. When Steven Kunishima was 18 months old, he was diagnosed with a severe brain disorder – hypoplasia of the vermis. Doctors told his parents that Steven would never walk, talk or be able to do other things that require control of muscles. His mother, Geri, was a teacher and a firm believer in reading aloud. She mobilized her husband and her two older daughters, and they read to Steven every night, even though their reading produced no reaction, just a blank stare.


Then, after three months, what must have seemed to the family like a miracle happened. When Trudi, Steven’s eldest sister, told him that it was story time, Steven struggled to drag himself across the floor until he reached the bookcase. Then, he clumsily reached for the book that was apparently his favorite, a story about animals. Somehow, he managed to open it. This journey the doctors said would never happen was repeated by Steven the next night.


Their spirits boosted by this demonstration of the power of reading aloud, the family redoubled their reading, and Steven continued to improve. Trelease reports that by age thirteen, Steven was able to walk and talk, and was reading at the same level as his peers. He wasn’t a great athlete or a great scholar, at least not yet, but for someone who was expected to be little more than a vegetable, Steven’s progress was truly incredible.


Dad reminder: You can start to read to your kids at ANY age. It’s fun for the kids and dad. It really is a dad duty!


George Jacobs, Ph.D. and Wan Loh Inn, Ed.D.


Dr. George Jacobs, Ph.D. and Dr. Wan Loh Inn, Ed.D. are the authors of many books (including “The Read Aloud Guide”, textbooks for teachers and students, curriculum guides, and children’s storybooks).

Find out more about reading aloud to your kids.