OK, your baby isn't going to get the finer points of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but there are benefits to be reaped from exposure to books even in early infancy. New research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting on Monday shows that when babies as young as 6 months of age are read to, and especially when that reading is interactive—involving things like pointing and sound effects—their language and literacy skills are higher on their way into elementary school four years later. "These findings are exciting," lead author Carolyn Cates says in a Science Daily news release, because the simple act of reading "has a lasting effect."
The researchers monitored 250 parent-baby pairs from ages 6 months to 4.5 years, and looked at both quantity (number of books read, number of reading days per week) and quality (whether the parent discussed the book with the child, for instance). Both quantity and quality predicted the child's vocab up to four years later; reading during the toddler years "appeared strongly tied to later emergent literacy skills, such as name-writing at age 4," per the release. The study builds on previous research on reading and kids: Popular Science cites a 2014 study that linked how many books are in a house to reading level; 500 books on the shelves were tied to a 2.2-year advance in reading skills over one's grade level. So if you've been invited to a baby shower, maybe bring the baby a book. (US adults rank middle-of-the-pack on literacy, but third to last on math.)