Talking points/Born to Read

Resources for parents, caregivers and library staff

The following are talking points that can be used when doing presentations to adults with children in their first year of life, newborn to 12 months old. These groups may include parents and teen parents, foster parents, child care providers, home visitors, volunteers, health care workers and others. In addition, these talking points can be used when speaking with adults with infants one-on-one.

Everyone can do it.

You are your child’s first and most important teacher. You can help foster your child’s love of books and reading by simply encouraging your child to play with and interact with books.

Reading aloud together teaches your child that books are important and that reading can be a positive, nurturing experience.

We’re here to help. 

The library is a place for you and your baby.  Libraries offer free resources, services, and programs designed especially with you and your child’s needs in mind.  Remember, librarians can offer advice on sharing books with your baby. Getting kids excited about books and reading is our job, too!  Ask us how to raise a reader.  It’s what we’re here for.

It’s important. 

Your child should have a healthy start, in both mind and body.  Reading is as important to a child’s growth and development as food and water.  Pediatricians recommend reading aloud to your child every day, so try to incorporate reading aloud into your daily routine, such as during play or at bedtime.  Consider it a healthy habit just like brushing your child’s teeth, feeding him vegetables, or giving him a daily vitamin. Have you read to your child today?

It’s Never Too Early to Start. 

Because your baby’s brain is developing so quickly, the first year of life is critical.  Research shows that babies who are read to in the first nine months of their lives are better prepared for school than babies who had little interaction with books. 

The brain is growing so much in the first year of life. Babies are born with about 100 billion neurons or brain cells, but they are not connected. During these early years, trillions of connections between the brain cells are being made. Babies brains are being primed for learning.

Image of brain connections at birth, 6 years old, and 14 years oldMuch of what we are learning about how the brain works in young children has advanced because of new technologies (MRI and PET scans) which are non-invasive, and which can be performed on children while they are awake. This allows for studies to be conducted on children who are considered normal, not only patients.

The gap between two neurons (brain cells) is called a synapse. The electrical connection (lines) occur through sensory experiences—seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, tasting. It is through these synapse connections that learning takes place.

Higher levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain which is a neurotransmitter, makes the establishment of these connections easier. How do we get higher levels of serotonin in the brain? When a child feels loved, cared for, responded to, it naturally elevates the levels of serotonin in the brain.

Cortisol (not cortisone), a hormone, is elevated in highly stressful situations. When it is elevated for long periods of time, it inhibits the transmission of serotonin in the brain, which inhibits connections needed for learning.

The brain of the two year old is still not efficient. They have more connections than the 6 year old. They are bombarded by everything and focus on everything.

Children ages 3-10 have three times as many synapses as an adult; 50 trillion at birth, 100 trillion at 1 year

As we grow older, fewer synapses; they are pruned, but more organized.

Repetition helps decide which connections are kept and which are pruned.

Just to give you an idea of how quickly a baby’s brain is developing, at birth the brain is 25% of the size and volume of the adult brain. By age 3 it is 80% and by age 5 it is 90% of the size of the adult brain!

Brain scans: 5 days, 2 months, 1 year, 28 yearsThis graphic shows the DENSITY of the electrical connections. You can see that the brain of the two month old is closer to the one year old brain and the adult than to a child at 5 days old. Look how quickly the sensory stimuli are being recorded in the brain.

Besides synapse formation and pruning, the other most significant event in postnatal brain development is myelination. Newborns' brains contain very little myelin, the dense impermeable substance that covers the length of mature brain cells and is necessary for clear, efficient electrical transmission.

This lack of myelin is the main reason why babies and young children process information so much more slowly than adults. Myelin is a very dense, fatty substance that insulates axons much like the plastic sheath on a power cable, increasing the speed of electrical transmission and preventing cross-talk between adjacent nerve fibers.

Myelination of the cerebral cortex begins in the primary motor and sensory areas--regions that receive the first input from the eyes, ears, nose, skin, and mouth--and then progresses to "higher-order," or association regions that control the more complex integration of perception, thoughts, memories, and feelings.

Myelination is a very extended process: although most areas of the brain begin adding this critical insulation within the first two years of life, some of the more complex areas in the frontal and temporal lobes continue the process throughout childhood and perhaps well into a person's 20s.

Babies are born able to hear and make the sounds of any language. As they grow and hear the language(s) you speak, they babble in those sounds. Linguists can tell by the babble of a six month old which languages a baby has been exposed to. By about 9 or 10 months, babies are less able to discern sounds they have not been hearing.    

By reading aloud with your baby from birth, you can do more than help your child get ready to learn.  Book sharing can also help you create moments of joy and caring closeness that you’ll treasure for years to come.

All the activities you do with your children help them develop language and can develop a love of books even from such a young age.

Some of the things you do with your children are talking, singing, reading and playing. The ways you talk, read and play with your children make a difference in their language development which is the basis for later reading.

Let’s look at some of these activities.


Talking seems so simple. What’s the big deal about talking?
Actually talking with babies is how they learn language. And the way they learn best is when you are talking directly to them. They like to see your face and your expressions.

Here is a video clip showing the development of talking in infancy and toddlerhood.

Speak in parentese.  Parentese means speaking in a higher pitch, elongating vowels, speaking very clearly and slowly, and repeating what you say. Talking with your child in parentese will keep your baby’s attention longer than speaking in a normal adult voice. This is true until about 9 months of age. After 9 months, babies pay as much attention to normal speech as to parentese speech.
Parentese by Talaris Research

Children need social interaction to make sense of talk. You may point to things, you may use different tones of voice. All of these are clues that help babies learn language and the meaning of what you say.

Talking with your babies helps to develop several of the early literacy skills needed later for learning to read. Talking with your baby allows them to hear the sounds of the language(s) you speak. This is the beginning of phonological awareness, hearing the smaller sounds in words which will help children sound out words.
Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies  How babies learn the sounds of language

Talking helps develop vocabulary—learning the meanings of words. The more words your child hears, the easier it will be for your child to learn to read. At this stage your child will not understand all of what you are saying. Still, use adult words, use lots of different words, and repeat words you are saying. All this talking lays a strong foundation for learning to read.

Talking helps to develop your child’s narrative skills. Narrative skills is a child’s use of expressive language—when children can tell you stories, tell you about something that happened. Of course, a baby can’t do that yet, but you lay the foundation for that when you talk with your baby, when you tell them sotries and when you tell them what you are doing. As you talk with your baby, leave a bit of time for your baby to babble back to you. When they babble to you, add another couple of sentences to what they are saying. Then wait for them to babble back as well.

Talk with your baby in the language that is most comfortable to you. It is important for children to hear language spoken fluently with as many words as possible. If your first language is not English, children will pick up English quickly when they go to school. It is most important that they come to school strong in at least one language.


Singing with children is another way to share language with children. You may sing songs and say rhymes that you know from your childhood. You may sing lullabies to help your child go to sleep.

Sometimes singing will calm a baby.

Sing songs to your baby in the language that is most comfortable to you.

In addition to singing being an activity you may enjoy with your baby, singing is also a good way to support later reading. For example, in many songs, there is a different note for each syllable, so children are hearing words being broken down into parts or syllables. This supports phonological awareness, hearing the smaller sounds in words. Developing this skill helps children later sound out the words they read.
Rhymes and songs also have many interesting words. As you say these words to your babies, you are helping to develop their vocabulary.


What kinds of books work well for babies?

The Born to Read book list provides great examples of the types of books that grab babies' attention.

What does sharing books with babies look like?

Sharing books with babies can look many different ways. You may have your baby in your arms and hold up a book while he stares wide-eyed at the brightly colored pictures. You may have your baby on your lap, leaning his back against your chest. You may be looking at the pictures in a book together. Your baby may be lying on the floor on his stomach looking at the pictures in a book you have laid down in front of him. The main thing is that you and your child are having an enjoyable time sharing books together.

Father and Gabby, age four months, reading a book together. From Zero to Three

More video clips from Zero to Three on talking and reading with babies:

As you talk about the pictures in the book, be sure to share stories or information about the pictures. Babies love to hear the sound of your voice. Many books for babies have just a picture and a word on a page. You can enrich your baby’s language experience by talking about what is in the picture, adding information or a little story.

Babies often try to eat or chew on books. This is natural. Babies explore everything with their mouths. Their hands are not very coordinated yet. Try to have a few books that you know are going to get “messed up”.
Babies explore books by chewing them.

Babies will often “hit” a book. This is a beginning step to turning pages. As they become more coordinated they bat individual pages of a board book as you turn pages. Later they will actually be able to turn pages!

If you point to pictures and talk about them, your baby will imitate you over time.

All of these interactions around books are helping your child to develop print awareness. Print awareness is one of the pre-reading skills. He is learning how books work and that pictures represent real things.

Because you are making the interaction around books enjoyable, your baby is developing print motivation, an enjoyment of books and reading. Children who have positive experiences around books and reading are more likely to stick with learning to read when they learn to read in school, even when it might be difficult.

Sometimes it is easy to run out of things to say to a baby since we cannot understand what they are saying and have a further conversation. Reading with your baby, talking about pictures in books or magazines or catalogs can be one way to build conversations.


Even from birth, babies are playing. They use play to learn about their world. A baby may grab onto a rattle that you offer and shake it. At first he doesn’t realize that by moving his arm, he is making the rattle make a noise. Over a few months he will be making the connection between his own actions and what is happening around him.

Playing peek-a-boo is a little game that helps babies learn that what disappears is still there—object permanence. When you think about it, each page turn of a book is a kind of peek-a-boo, each turning of the page reveals a little surprise.

For babies books are toys. Just as they are exploring rattles, blocks, stuffed animals, they can also be exploring toys. And so many books these days are made like toys. There are sturdy board books that can be put anywhere—in the toy box, in the diaper bag, by the changing table, near the crib, and vinyl or cloth books in the bathtub. Some books are peek-a-boo type and have flaps.

Others use textures and sound.

As your baby is playing with toys, describe what your baby is doing. When she plays with blocks, you can talk about the colors, the shapes, and where she is putting the blocks—wow you put the yellow triangle block on top of the red square block. Here is your little yellow rubber duck. Squeeze it and it makes a sound!

By describing what is happening as you play with your child, by talking about colors and shapes, even if your child does not yet understand all you say, you are helping your child develop language and laying a strong foundation for later reading.