by J. Richard Gentry
Infant and toddler brains appear to be well-suited for reading. Thousands of parents worldwide are having success teaching their babies to read using books and other fun literacy activities, games, and even multimedia reading programs. With 4 out of 10 American eight-year-olds unable to read proficiently, I encourage parents, who are children's first reading teachers, to get their young children off to a good start before they get to kindergarten.
Here are five reasons to teach your baby or toddler to read.
1. Zero to age six is when language proficiency develops in the brain.
Well before your child can speak or read, she is absorbing language at a phenomenal pace. In the first year of life, her brain will triple in size; by the time she enters kindergarten, it will be almost as big as yours. It is during this critical period that many of the neural pathways establishing language proficiency are formed. This is why, as your child's first reading teacher, it is so crucial to make the most of these early years by introducing reading as joyful play.
2. Early literacy engagement gives your baby an enormous advantage.
Spending just a few minutes a day engaging your baby or toddler in literacy activities that include lots of speech and positive parent/child interaction, along with traditional techniques such as reading aloud, may give your baby a 32-million-word advantage by kindergarten over children who did not get this exposure; some neuroscientists even report that early intervention with appropriate literacy activity can make your child less likely to develop learning problems such as dyslexia.
3. For babies and toddlers, literacy activities are fun, not work.
Learning to read is work for the six-year-old beginner, but it's play for babies and toddlers, and it's amazing what they can pick up. Go to YouTube and search baby reading to see toddlers who can show you how well they read, not just words, but easy books and signs they haven't seen before. In my book, I include age-appropriate games and activities very young children love to do with their favorite reading teacher -- their parent -- which develop reading and writing skills while your baby is having fun.
4. Babies' brains are uniquely suited to early reading.
In my experience, all babies have special capacity for perceiving patterns and connecting symbols with meaning, which can begin as early as eight months of age. All babies have good recognition memory and novelty preference, so they enjoy looking at pictures and word cards with their parents. Perceiving patterns and connecting symbols with meaning is what reading is all about. When shown contrasting word patterns five minutes a day in a joint media engagement with their parents, two and three-year-olds can intuit phonics. This is true for parents who are using multimedia technology such as "Your Baby Can Read," in addition to reading aloud and sharing books.
5. Babies' right-brain learning gives them special capacities for reading.
Childhood education experts who have only studied school-aged children incorrectly assume that babies and toddlers must learn to read like six-year-olds, who develop left-brain reading systems through formal instruction. They are wrong. Babies and toddlers likely begin as right-brain readers who pick up reading as easily as they pick up three languages if all three languages are spoken by their caregivers between birth and age three. (If one waits until age six, it's not so easy for the child to pick up three languages simultaneously. The baby brain, not the six-year-old brain, has special language and reading capacities.)
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J. Richard Gentry PhD is a nationally acclaimed expert on childhood literacy, reading, and spelling development, and the author of Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write — from Baby to Age 7 (Da Capo / Perseus). Find out more at www.jrichardgentry.com.