Reading Is More Than Memorizing the Alphabet
Speaking and reading to your child will provide him with a safe, familiar environment in which to explore his world through the very powerful medium of communication.
Long before a child can speak, he's curious and motivated by speech. He feels the need to express himself right from the start. The same goes for reading. Words on a page may not mean anything to him for a few more years, but the stories they convey, the sound of his mother's voice as she reads them and the interaction he enjoys with pictures and page turning all contribute to his curiosity about reading. Children make connections between words and meaning very early. A child is on a mission to express himself and catches on the importance of words, spoken or written, to that endeavor from a very young age. Speaking and reading to your child will provide him with a safe, familiar environment in which to explore his world through the very powerful medium of communication.
It's More than ABC
It's a common assumption that learning to read begins with memorizing the alphabet and building phonetic abilities. These things are important, but the fundamentals of reading are part of a child's everyday life right from the start. You can participate in the reading future of your child by being aware of the very simple, important ways in which you are already doing so. Pointing out objects to your toddler, for example, or describing what you are doing while you feed or dress your infant will stimulate the connection between words and their use in describing the world.
Connecting with a parent is the most important motive a child can have for developing the ability to communicate. Many temper tantrums are caused by the frustration arising from the simple inability to communicate something in a way the grown-ups can understand. As you teach your child about his surroundings, you draw him closer to you emotionally and psychologically. This has a powerful effect on his desire and willingness to experiment with new modes of communication. He'll start using words instead of simple sounds and he'll see that understandable expression is more effective than screaming. The connection with you that results from successful communication of an idea is the best reason he can have for going further with his efforts at communicating with words.
Talk and Sing
Spend a lot of time and energy talking and singing to him. Make eye contact and say meaningful things when changing his diapers or feeding him. Respond to his baby talk with real answers, smile and nod at him. Be sure to listen to him and try to make him feel heard when you're playing with him or picking him up from his nap.
Books! Books! Books!
As early as seems fitting, give him books to explore. The stores are full of brightly colored books with thick cardboard pages and textured surfaces. His first interactions with books will not seem any different than his interactions with his other toys, but by reading to him from the books, you'll help him to see what the book contains. Over time, his awareness will grow.
The value of reading stories to your child cannot be measured. And you can use a quick story as a transition between activities or periods of the day. Read a story just before meal time and preface the reading by saying, 'After this it's time for dinner.' It will help at bedtime when your child needs to settle down. But don't skip the larger blocks of reading time also. A regular period, daily if possible, for reading and sharing a story is vital to you child's development. Not only does it strengthen his mind, but it's time spent with mom and dad in a relaxed, warm setting.
If you have more than one child, be sure to give them all their own reading time with stories particular to each child. This is particularly important if children are several years apart in age. Each will have very different needs and interests both intellectually and emotionally. If your toddler asks for the same story over and over again, pay attention and don't get impatient. It may be a sign that he's beginning to connect the words you say with their representation on the page. That's a thrilling moment for child and that excitement should be encouraged.
The Right to Write
Letting your child write the shopping list with you can reinforce his understanding that objects have representation in written words and show him that he can actually construct those words himself. Take the time to point out the object you are going to restock, say the word and spell it out, naming each letter as you go. Let him get involved with all the phases of your shopping trip and use each moment as an opportunity to expose him to the world of letters and words. You can use this method with everything you do - a trip to the park, a family vacation, even a visit to the back yard. If you can, select books that tell stories of similar activities. This will give you toddler a sense of connection to the story and help to reinforce what he's learned by broadening its context.
Children are born to learn. And they learn in lots of ways, some predictable, some not. By participating in your child's exploration you will come to know his particular learning style. This will help you adapt what is known about the way children learn in general to suit his needs. It takes little more than a keener awareness of the way you interact with him anyway. By being a bit more conscious and a bit more creative, you'll provide him with opportunities to learn and expand his interests in ways you might otherwise have missed.
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