Research looking into how mothers responded to their 12-month-olds during a range of activities such as book reading, puppet play, and toy play has shown that infants made more speech-like sounds during reading than the other activity types. The study also found that mothers responded more to the sounds made while reading than in other activities. This finding further supports the link between book reading and language development.
A lot of research shows that book reading even to infants as young as six months of age is important to language outcomes, but I’m trying to explain why by looking at the specifics, which could be responding to speech-like sounds. If we know what specific interactions are occurring between caregiver and child and we can link that to language outcomes, then it wouldn’t just be telling parents, ‘Read a lot of books to your kids.’ That would definitely be important to tell them, but you could also identify specific behaviors to do during book reading.” says Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Iowa.
Regardless of the context, the mothers within the study responded to their child’s speech-like sounds with imitations or an expansion of the sound. For example, if baby produced the sound “Ba,” the mother would respond with “Ba-ba” or “Ball,” even if ball was not related to the story being read. Labelling of picture was also frequently occurring during book reading.
Gros-Louis and colleagues observed the interactions of 34 mothers and their 12-month-olds during three 10-minute periods of different activities: puppet play, toy play, and book reading. The hand puppet was a cloth monkey; the toy was a Fisher-Price barn with manipulative parts, such as buttons to push and knobs to turn; and the books had bright pictures and simple sentences rather than single words or labels. The babies were seated in a high chair to control proximity to their mothers and to prevent them from getting up and moving around the play room.
There is already a large body of evidence surrounding the link between reading interactions and older toddlers. However these findings add to our knowledge and understanding of how reading to preverbal infants is linked to language outcomes, which is an area in need of more research as it is not as well understood.