The message is spreading: literacy can and should be fostered not only in young children but in the very youngest babies, too. In our last post we talked about Born to Read, the American Library Association’s initiative for encouraging early literacy. The ALA provides resources to libraries to promote reading to newborns, and library staff distribute books and information to new and expectant parents to support the program’s worthy aims:

  • encourage development of and increase emergent literacy skills and vocabulary
  • provide a language-enriched environment to all children and their families
  • create and establish routines and habits for young children and their parents
  • create and establish a special time for parents to interact and concentrate on their baby, providing an enjoyable time to bond
  • impact baby’s language development through singing, speaking and reading
  • present an enjoyable and positive experience so that babies will develop a love of reading and libraries and will eventually share that with others as they grow up and become adults

Abundant research during the past decade has made it clear that babies in the last trimester are an active audience. They can discern, remember, and learn what they hear from inside the womb. Therefore, there is strong evidence that the ALA’s listed benefits of reading to babies would be enhanced if reading began before birth! We’re sure it’s only a matter of time before prenatal reading is included as part of the ALA’s Born to Read intiative.

Please check out this link to the ALA’s website for more information.

Meanwhile, the  U.S. Department of Education’s initiative Race to the Top also has early literacy as an integral part of its vision. Massachusetts (our home state) was one of nine states to be awarded $50 million over four years to “provide services for children from birth to age five which support early literacy and family literacy.” The state plan, From Birth to School Readiness: Massachusetts Early Learning Plan, 2012–2015, is designed to support work that “builds strong foundations for our youngest citizens.” One component of the plan is centered around increasing the quality of oral language of preschool children in order “close the developmental gaps for the youngest and neediest children in the state.”

In our August 2011 post Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me, we discussed the groundbreaking Hart and Risley study, which found that the amount of rich, responsive language interactions between parents and children before age three was a clear indicator of the children’s success in school, both socially and academically. We hope that the state of Massachusetts, as well as other states across the county, are paying attention to all the recent studies showing that babies learn language in the womb.

It couldn’t be more concrete: Learning doesn’t begin at birth; it begins before birth. We certainly expect that our educational leaders will reflect the undeniable impact of prenatal language exposure as they create their nationwide literacy initiatives to improve the lives of our children and families.

For now, go ahead, expectant mommies, daddies, grandparents, babysitters! Read to that baby bump! Although you can’t yet see your little one, she is raptly listening to and learning from your words, words that are music to her ears and, as the research shows, that lay the foundation for her social and cognitive development. And when our  educational leaders announce that they are including prenatal reading in their recommendations, you can proudly say “I knew that,” as you continue to enjoy all the incredible research-supported benefits of reading to your  baby before and after birth.

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