Help Your Baby Read On Your Own

No, I’m not going to review the popular program by that name.  I just want to offer some sound, common sense advice about getting your young child on the path to literacy.  You actually don’t need to spend a lot of money or invest in special software. You don’t need fancy books and you don’t need flashcards at all.  Your best tools for helping baby get ready to read are at your fingertips and easily implemented.

Little children (birth through two-ish) are naturally focused on learning language.  It’s what their brains are wired to do.  And it’s what they need to be doing.  Sound language learning is a foundation for later reading.  Study after study has shown that the best things you can do to help Baby learn to read are the exact same things you do to enrich the language environment.

First of all, read, read, and read some more.  Read before bed time and read between meals.  Read during bath time and as you are working on potty training.  Read in the chair and on the floor.  Read in the corner and under the play tent with a flashlight.  The more you read to your baby, the better equipped he or she will be to learn to read independently when the time comes.

And the types of books you choose to share are important also.  The biggest factor is variety.  When baby is very young, share picture books with faces, other babies, and common household items.  As baby grows, introduce books about animals and every day life.  Keep adding variety with nursery rhymes, folk tales, poetry, fiction and nonfiction, stories about the familiar and the fabulous.  Share books you remember loving as a child and grab some new ones off the shelf each day, too.

This is a good place to put in a word about repetition.  Little children (and sometimes even big ones) gain a lot more than most people realize from hearing the same story over and over and over again.  Be patient with your young child.  Repeated stories build foundational ideas like the constancy of print (don’t get me started on the horrors of “shortening” the text when you’re in a hurry!), memory for detail and sequencing.  Repeatedly reading the same stories also helps with memory skills and allows the young one to attend to the printed words as well as the story itself.  Go ahead and reread those favorite stories again and again and again.

And as you read, keep your young one engaged by encouraging interaction with the story.  Reading is not intended to be a one-sided activity, with you doing all the reading and your child doing all of the listening.  Instead, ask questions as you go.  Go off on tangents.  Point out items in pictures and talk about new words.  Allow your child chances to fill in missing words and to predict what might happen next or what would’ve happened if a character had made a different choice.  Make up new endings and new beginnings.

And when you put the books away, keep on building those essential language skills by having conversations.  Some studies have shown that nearly 80-90% of some parents’ speech to their children is directive or corrective.  That’s not the kind of language that promotes literacy.  Your child needs you to help him or her build give and take conversation skills.  Chat about everyday life, about the world around and about feelings.  Rephrase, refine and repeat some of the things your child says.  This will help you make sure you’re truly understanding, and it will also help your child expand vocabulary and improve self-expression skills.

All of these things start at birth, long before Baby is physically and mentally ready to read, and they need to continue all through childhood.  Don’t worry about hype or commercial products, just use the language skills you have to help your child on the path to literacy.

Got a question about learning?  Leave me a comment or drop me a note at sfleming1235 (at) gmail.com.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!!