My dad sent me a great podcast episode the other day: This American Life, episode 364, “Going Big.” The episode investigates “Baby College,” a Harlem humanitarian project aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty by teaching new parents how to interact with their babies. Baby College encourages parents to read to their babies regularly, among other things, priming them for later success in school and in life. Listening to this episode was fascinating—it’s incredible that simply sharing words with baby can shape his future. It was also eye opening to learn that certain “best practices” of modern parenting, such as speaking, singing and reading to baby, are not universally recognized. The Baby College program is redirecting lives in an underserved community by prompting parents to read to their little ones.
As I pondered this, I suddenly realized, wait a sec, I haven’t been reading to my own baby, and I should know better! Deacon is over 2 months old, and I am ashamed to admit that I’ve been so busy with my big kids’ stuff that I haven’t been reading to my little guy. I do talk to him all the time, make eye contact with him, and sing to him sometimes, but I hadn’t pulled out the books until guilt drove me to it this last week. As soon as I did start to read to Deke, I recognized that he is so ready for books! I like to prop him up in his chair or on a pillow and read facing him, with the book held open next to me. He glances at the pictures, but he really likes to study my face as I read. When I catch him in the right mood—fed but not too sleepy—Deke responds with smiles, coos and energetic wiggles. I’m now attempting to introduce him to a variety of books, but also give him some healthy repetition, like reading Goodnight Moon each night as part of our bedtime routine.
This delayed start is a prime example of the difference between parenting a first and a fourth child. With my first, I spent a good part of every day reading to her and showing her homemade flashcards. I was careful to use proper nouns rather than pronouns whenever I spoke to her, just to avoid confusion. She went to sleep listening to Mozart most nights, too. By the time Char was 2, she knew her uppercase and lowercase letters, plus the sounds they make. She could count in English and Spanish. And she was book obsessed. At 3 and a half, she learned to read. Today, I often have to confiscate 10-year-old Charlotte’s book to get her to sleep at night. She is a highly literate child.
Now, as I rush around, driving my kids to three different schools (I have a fifth grader, a first grader and a preschooler this year), I have to remind myself to prioritize Deke’s education, too! His little sponge for a brain needs it. My Finn (age 7, worry prone, and the sibling most attentive to Deacon) has asked me several times, “How in the world are we going to teach Deke how to talk?” I keep reminding him, we’re teaching him how to talk right now! Every word we say and book we read to him is making a small deposit that will add up to a wealth of vocabulary.