Q: I have a 2-month old baby, and I love to read to him. My wife thinks I'm wasting my time. Is it too soon to be reading to my son? If not, what should I read?
A: You're definitely not wasting your time. In fact, reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do. Admittedly, for the first few months, your reading won't seem to be having any effect. And it doesn't really matter what you read: a Wall Street Journal article, the menu from that Chinese takeout place down the road or your high school calculus textbook. It's not about education. Besides being a wonderful opportunity for the two of you to snuggle together, the goal is simply to get him used to the sound of the language and to have him associate reading with comfort and fun.
"When children have been read to, they enter school with larger vocabularies, longer attention spans, greater understanding of books and print, and consequently have the fewest difficulties in learning to read," writes Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook. If that doesn't convince your wife, try this: A large percentage of prison inmates are illiterate, and many juvenile offenders have reading problems. There's no question that reading is an important habit to develop, and there's no such thing as "too early" to start.
If you read to him regularly, you'll notice him getting more and more interested over time. At about three months, he may start holding your finger while you read. That might not sound like much, but it's a tiny but clear indication that he's starting to become aware of the book as a separate object and that he likes what you're doing. Look for books with simple, uncluttered drawings as well as poetry and nursery rhymes.
Two important things. First, babies this age want to put everything in their mouth, including books. You can either try to distract him with noises or give him something else to chew on while you're reading. Second, pay attention to his behavior. If he starts looking around, pushes you or the book away or starts fussing, stop reading. You'll both be a lot happier if you finish the story later.