Baby Brain Connection
Parenting for Early Childhood Literacy
Background Information for "Reading"
As parents, we want our children to enter preschool and kindergarten ready to learn. It is much easier for children to learn to read if they have heard the words before. This is done by talking, playing and interacting, and reading with their parents and other adults.
As soon as a child is born, he begins to develop language and literacy skills. During the first three years of a child’s life, his brain will grow to 90 percent of its eventual adult weight. It is during this time in a child’s life that he will also develop much of his ability and capacity for learning. So, parents and other adult caregivers as “first teachers” who engage in fun, verbally stimulating early literacy activities with young children in their care are directly contributing to their positive mental development. In order for a child to begin to learn to read and write in kindergarten and 1st grade, he must have already developed language and pre-reading skills necessary for him to begin to do this. People who regularly care for children from birth until just prior to their entering kindergarten can greatly increase children’s chances for reading and writing success later by engaging in early literacy activities with them. These include:
* regularly reading to children (even when they’re babies)
* engaging them in two-way “talking and listening” conversations and storytelling
* creating opportunities and experiences to hear sounds
* helping children recognize letters in print, on signs, and computer screens
* helping them recognize the “smaller sounds” that make up whole words (Kera)
When children come to preschool or kindergarten without these experiences, they may be significantly behind other children in their oral language development such as speaking and literacy knowledge. Thus, they may find school more difficult.
In addition, we know that appreciation of books and motivation for reading is important. Values, attitudes, and expectations held by parents and others with respect to literacy are likely to have a lasting effect on a child’s attitude about learning to read. In fact, research shows that one of the best indicators of children’s school success is not likely the family income or level of education, but the extent to which the parents are concerned with their child’s education and involvement with the school.
Parents shouldn’t wait until their children are toddlers to start reading. Reading to them should start right from birth. We can still focus on giving all children opportunities to attend universal prekindergarten, which is vital, but far too much time is lost before children enter the classroom. By intervening early,from the time a baby is born, parents can improve the home learning environment for all children will ensure that they are ready to learn when they enter school and succeed later in life. In fact, Nobel Prize-winning economist James J. Heckman found that economic returns on dollars invested in early education are as high as 15-17% per year – higher than other traditional economic development strategies. (Selk)
Educators and researchers continue to look for ways to jump-start reading readiness. “Early language skills, which are the foundation for reading ability, are critical. Research shows that the more words parents and other adults use when talking and reading to their babies, the greater the size of their child’s vocabulary at age 3. Studies show that children from low socioeconomic environments begin kindergarten knowing far fewer words than children from middle class backgrounds. In homes where conversation, availability of books, and questions about reading are not encouraged, the child enters schools with less basic tools he will need to accomplish his tasks. He will use less words with fewer adjectives and descriptive words. He will ask fewer questions and use shorter sentences. Also, he will have a shorter attention span than his more advantaged classmates. (The Hart-Risley study on language development shows that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 3. The problem is compounded further by the fact that 61% of low-income children have no children’s books in their homes.)” (Selk)
The clear solution is for all adults to speak, play, and read to young children as everyday nurturing activities. Research shows that words heard on television and radio programs do not have the same impact as live, spoken conversation. The reason is simple: children want to learn language in order to communicate with the people who mean the most to them: their parents. "Parent-child reading helps prepare infants for future learning,” says Dr. Danielle Z. Kassow of the Seattle-based Talaris Research Institute, “not necessarily because o the words on the page, but because of the closeness fostered during story time.Reading together boosts long-term success because it increases attachment. When children have a secure attachment to a parent in infancy, they have better responsiveness to reading when in the toddler and preschool years.” (Selk)
Of all parent-child activities, reading aloud provides the richest exposure to language. Unfortunately, fewer than half of young American children are read to daily. Reading aloud is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory. Giving parents information,strategies for encouraging reading as well as talking, playing and interacting and books (when possible) can help them better prepare their children to succeed in school. Books are available. Some are free and given by pediatricians during visits of parents with their babies. Others can be gotten at the library or at school book fairs at a very low price.
Read, read, read! But don't just recite words on a page, experts advise. Instead, read interactively. Ask the child questions, wait, and respond by adding a little more information. "Compare and contrast what's in the book. Say,'This is a race car and that's a tractor. How are they different?' With this reading technique, the adult becomes the questioner and the audience for the child. Rather than simply listening,the child becomes actively involved in the process.
"Let your child have as much control as possible. Let him turn the page or go back to another page. Have conversations about what you're reading." Those conversations are called the PEER sequence:
Prompting the child ("what do you see?")
Evaluating the response ("that's right, it's a cow")
Expanding upon what the child says ("and a cow lives on a farm and says moo")
Repeating the prompt to make sure the child has learned the information." (Morgan)
And, make reading sessions fun. Be careful not to pressure or overwhelm your child. The single most important role adults can play in the future success of the children in their life is in helping to make talking, playing, and reading together a joyful experience. So, read and read some more!