Babies and Books

There are almost 3,000 babies born in Dona Ana County each year. About half of them are born at Memorial Medical Center where MMC Auxiliary volunteers make sure that every one of them goes home with baby’s first book. As new moms get ready to leave the hospital, volunteer Claud Westcott tells them, “You need to sit down and rest. Hold the baby on your lap, show the pictures and read. Everybody benefits.” For the past eight years the auxiliary has made books and reading a focus of their work. He explains, “It’s never too early to get started. We know that parents are the basis of all learning so we want to help them establish early reading right from the beginning.

What MMC auxiliary members are doing is important because even newborns are listening, looking, and learning. Babies respond to books even though their interaction won’t look like reading at all. Even the tiniest infant snuggling in the safety of a family member’s lap learns to associate books with the pleasure of love and security. From the beginning, a baby responds happily to the sound of a calm voice so you can just read your favorite magazine out loud and you both will relax.

Between three and six months babies enjoy focusing on pictures of faces and familiar objects in a book. As motor skills improve, baby begins to develop enough coordination to hold her head steady to look at pictures. Soon hand and eye coordination allows for grasping and tasting the book as well as dropping and throwing it. These activities are actually baby’s scientific exploration. Soon patting and smiling at favorite pictures along with babbling and cooing during story time indicate interest and developing communication skills. Babies enjoy participating with parents, talking back and forth, making eye contact, cuddling, singing, talking, playing and reading together by pointing and naming the pictures. This is a joyful time as long as parents follow baby’s cues for “more” or “stop.”

All of this activity is just the beginning of raising a reader. Long before the first day of school, a child learns what is valuable to the family. Important adults in a child’s life continue to answer their questions, name everything in the environment , use books in daily family routines, make up silly rhymes and sings songs, patiently read the same book over and over, point to letters and numbers, ask “what happens next” and make up stories about pictures. All of these activities develop large vocabularies, curiosity, confidence and the expectation that learning is fun.

Reading Readiness is a major determining factor in a child’s success in school.  Over 3,000 local children will start kindergarten next year. Not all of them will be ready to succeed. Half of the children in Dona Ana County live in poverty. Most of them will go to school without the early learning advantages of books at bedtime and magnetic letters on the fridge. A recent report showed that by third grade 3 out of 4 students are not reading at grade level. For the majority of these children, their struggle began on the first day of Kindergarten.

The solution starts at home. With the support of the community and dedicated volunteers, the Children’s Reading Alliance (CRA) has been helping parents fortify their efforts to be their child’s first and best teacher. Our programs reach out to neighborhoods where the need is greatest. The demand for our work continues to grow.

Everyone’s quality of life and our children’s future depend on getting the best education. The Children’s Reading Alliance is committed to Raising Readers Together. Your support makes the difference for children in our community.

And at this busy time of year we all would profit from taking Claud’s advice, “Sit down and rest. Put the baby in your lap and read.”