Sharing books with little ones... Sarah Webb on the importance of reading to your baby
A very wise New Zealand writer and bookseller called Dorothy Butler once said ‘babies are never too little to look’ and she’s right.
And they are never too little to listen.
From birth they can distinguish between different sounds, and as they grow, they will try to replicate the sounds they hear and begin to make sounds of their own.
There are three times as many words in a children’s book than we use in everyday language.
Reading aloud to your child is a brilliant way of teaching them new words, and it’s also deeply soothing for them to hear your voice. A good nursery rhyme collection is a great place to start.
When I went looking for a collection that contained the rhymes and songs that I had heard as a child in Ireland I couldn’t find one, so I decided to put one together myself.
That book, Sally Go Round the Stars: Rhymes and Songs from an Irish Childhood (with Claire Ranson and Steve McCarthy), was a bestseller, and this autumn sees a second collection published, A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, with lots more Irish and international favourites, from She’ll be Coming ‘round the Mountain to The Owl and the Pussycat.
Nursery rhymes and songs are part of a baby’s literary heritage, passed down from generation to generation.
"Part of the power of the nursery rhyme is that children learn them from the significant adults in their lives," Dr Susan Kennedy said.
"The children are held, tickled and snuggled. Physical contact is very important for healthy emotional and physical growth."
So when you’re sharing nursery rhymes and songs with your baby or toddler, as well as having fun, you’re also helping them learn and develop. Happy reading!
Sarah's tips on what to look for in a book for a baby or toddler:
- Small, baby-sized books that little hands can hold
- Strong, well-designed books that can withstand a biting – board books are ideal
- Clear, uncluttered pages with bright colours, or striking black and white illustrations. Avoid fussy books with too much action on the page.
- Illustrations and images that a baby will recognise from everyday life – pets, people, cars.
Sarah Webb is an award-winning champion of children’s books and a writer for both children and adults.
Her latest book for children is A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea: Rhymes and Songs from an Irish Childhood (O’Brien Press) with Steve McCarthy.