There are many ways to engage with a baby, and a great place to start is your local library. You will be amazed at how fun and enriching a weekly library trip can be for both of you. In fact, it’s a great place to start learning how to meaningfully talk to your baby -- an action we now know can impact later success in school and life.

Twenty years ago, researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley learned that affluence impacts the number of words a child hears. Families with larger incomes talk to their children more, amounting to a hundreds of utterances in a single day and deeper preparation for content learning. But you don’t need to have tons of money to help your child get a head start. In fact, going to the library and borrowing books is entirely free.

There are lots of ways to engage your baby with words, and it starts with simply narrating life, walking along and naming all we see, dog, truck, tree, etc. A tour of the living room, focusing on family photos is not uncommon. Dig deeper and you’ll find deeper engagement when your child is interested in something specific and drives their own learning.

Still, this kind of incidental talk really just scratches the surface of what’s possible. The library is a place of possibilities where language explodes. Without realizing it, you will pick up books that extend the conversations, introduce you to new ideas, and enable you to see the world anew through your child’s eyes.

Here’s 5 ways to make the most of a trip to the library with your little one:

  1. Give your baby free choice. It’s so important for children to select books that interest them. It gives them the power to drive their own learning. Infants and toddlers visiting the library are laying out a framework for self-motivation for the future. When a child asks you to repeat, repeat, repeat a book, you are on to something really good, a passionate reader! If you like the book, that’s even better, as you model enthusiasm.

  1. Read books that dive into more literary language. The language of books is different from spoken language. Children need to hear this higher level vocabulary so they can carry it into elementary school. Big, large, huge, gigantic, gargantuan—all with pictures.

  1. Let your little one touch and feel the books. Book mechanics—learning how books work, open and close, top and bottom, beginning and ending—are all important pre-reading skills. Familiarity, comfort and confidence are important for early readers.

  1. Point out the relationship between images, words and objects in each book. Over time, as children see a picture of a boat and hear the word at the same time, they begin to develop mental frameworks for concepts and understand that the word written on the page is a symbol for the object in the world. This is a crucial step in reading development.

  1. Read out loud. An infant listening to language becomes a toddler who tells you when you’ve skipped a page, and later a child who sounds out a word. Repeated exposure to the sounds and images of words shape early readers. The more meaningful words the earlier the better.

There’s nothing like the library for opening up paths of discovery for your child as an individual, but more importantly for the two of you as a learning duo. Making a trip every week, and setting aside a special basket for your loot, sets the stage for intellectual closeness, shared curiosity, and endless fascination. Establish this routine now and you will be grateful in a year when they start requesting favorites, in two years when they sound out words, and in the future when they read for content and ask great questions. Start early, have fun, talk, listen, and get to know your child better by reading together.

Photography by 485 Creative for Well Rounded NY.

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