Did you know that your child is learning to read soon after he is born? It’s true! His eye sight will develop from a depth of 12 to 18 inches the first couple of months, and by the time he is four months, he’ll be able to see across the room. As an infant he will listen to sounds in his environment, which includes your speech, and eventually he will pair these sounds with letters and…voila – he is entering the stage of early literacy!
He will begin speaking and hearing a large vocabulary and he will enjoy varied experiences that allow him to comprehend the words and stories he begins to read. As he listens to rhyming words and songs, he will fine-tune his phonological awareness, so he can begin to hear when sounds are the same and when they are different (e.g. bit/ pit).
He will recognize words he sees in his environment frequently, such as a stop sign, restaurant names, etc., and realize that the shapes of letters can be slightly different but the letter name is the same. You’ll notice as he begins to make sounds for each letter and blend them to together to make words (his introduction to the alphabetic principle). Eventually, he’ll pair together sounds ( “sh,” “ough,” “ing,” etc.) and continue in this stage until he learns phonics, spelling, word definitions, grammar and writing composition.
Studies show that when reading and writing is taught to children starting at birth, their neural pathways develop in different ways. Children who are read to early are more intelligent, have a 32-million-word advantage by kindergarten over children who did not get this exposure, and are less likely to develop learning problems such as dyslexia.
Dr. Richard Gentry, a nationally acclaimed expert on early literacy has recommended a few fun and simple activities, summed up in four easy-to-remember words and the acronym R.E.A.D. – Repetition, Enthusiasm, Attention and Drawing, that parents can do with babies, toddlers and preschoolers to help them develop writers’ brains.
- Repetition. Read the same books over and over for your child until he is “reading” it to you. This repetition allows babies and toddlers to mimic the words and babble sounds that he hears. Read with feeling so your baby has a more positive association with books.
- Enthusiasm. Your child is activating his social, hearing, emotional and language system all at once. When you are enthusiastic, you create an environment that will encourage your child to want to share time reading. The other “E’s” that Dr. Gentry recommends are: enticement, exploration, engagement and explosion. By enticing your child with fun reading activities, exploring new books, and engaging her in the process, her vocabulary, knowledge and love of learning will explode.
- Attention. By switching off between attention to sounds, meaning, rhythm or musicality of language, expression, feelings, letter naming and letter formation, you focus a child’s attention to the many different aspects of language, reading, writing or spelling. The key is to do a variety of targeted reading and writing activities with your child that are appropriate and fun for his phase of development.
- Drawing. Your child might be ready to scribble on paper long before you think she’s able. Early scribbling is the precursor to early writing. With early marking and scribbling, she is showing an internal desire to communicate, joy in expressing ideas, and the urge to make meaning. Experts agree that drawing almost always opens the gate to early literacy.
So enjoy this activity with your child at bedtime, at the beach, on the porch swing or cuddled up in a warm blanket in the corner of the sofa.
Learn more about reading and language development in My Baby Compass, Four to Seven to prepare your child for academic success.
– Kathy Gruhn, MA CCC-SLP, author of My Baby Compass series