I read a number of articles and papers on early childhood development and the importance of parenting and reading in the development and well being of children yesterday as I prepared to write my article on the topic for POC's Wellness channel. Most of the articles and papers I read were long but I found them very interesting and helpful. In fact, I felt blessed to have read them yesterday (until early this morning).
Why did I feel blessed? I felt blessed because I was given the opportunity to take an active role in the early childhood development of my children. I felt blessed to be this hands on in nurturing and raising them. Through the scientific studies and findings, I understood why my kids are quite advanced or fast in hitting their developmental milestones, be it physical, emotional or in the area of reading.
Earlier this morning, as I spent time with my second child, I witnessed once more some of these milestones. Today happens to be my second child's eleventh (11th) month. Yet, he can already do many things that are expected of children older than him. One of them is his ability to communicate. I actually noticed early on that he started cooing and babbling early. He can now speak a number of words that we can understand. He can hold books and turn pages of his board books properly. He can point at some pictures in his book when we ask him to. He can perform one-step commands. He can imitate actions to some action songs and sometimes, I hear him hum the tunes. These are just some of his "impressive achievements" at 11 months old.
Later in the day, I was reminded again of another big blessing in our family, my eldest son. He is such a bookworm at four years old! (like me!) One of our challenges with him is to get him to stop reading when it's time to nap or go to bed at night. He started reading words at two years old. Now, he reads like a gradeschooler. He can already decode words and he gets to learn/read new words fast. He used to read with his finger tracking the words in the story. But he has stopped last year as we noticed him experiencing a growth spurt in reading. My new challenge now with him is to read aloud more slowly so he can enunciate the words. I noticed that he has been reading mentally/silently a lot lately.
So how did my eldest son grow to be literate at an early age and develop a passion for books and reading? Let me share some tips which I (and my husband) employed in the past years.
Helpful tips to help your child develop early literacy and love for reading:
· Establish a daily reading schedule or routine. I learned from the study I read last night that the brains of children develop better when exposed to consistent, repetitive experiences in the context of nurturing and secure relationships. Now, I know the scientific explanation for this highly recommended practice/ritual. I've been reading to my kids everyday since I gave birth to them. I read to them at least twice a day, usually upon waking up and before sleeping. I used to read more often during the day with my eldest child but since he learned to read on his own, I usually read to him now around three or four times a day. On days when I'm very busy with projects, I make sure I read to him twice a day. The positive results of this habit/ritual with my eldest son encouraged me to do the same with my second child.
· Read aloud to your kids. Reading aloud gives parents the opportunity to teach their children how to read words, how to read effectively, and how to pronunce words correctly. Click here to learn more on why reading aloud to your kids is important and beneficial.
· Practice lap reading. My eldest son still loves to be read to and to sit on my lap even though he can already read on his own. I think he loves the warmth and the cuddling that goes with our reading experience. Neuroscientists said that the benefits of this emotional experience to the child are long term. Because of this experience and practice also, the child develops positive feelings and memories about reading, books and learning.
· Expose kids to books as early as possible to spark interest and help them grow in appreciation of them. I allowed my kids to play with books and explore them since the time that they are strong enough to hold one. I let them gaze at the books, chew on them, lick them, pull the pages, whatever they wished to do with the book when they were still babies. Then, as they grew older, I slowly taught them by modelling to them how to hold the book properly, how to use them and how to take care of them. They grew up comfortable with books and familiar with them. Here's a video of my eldest son pretending to read when he was a newborn baby around a month old.
· Make books available and accessible around the house. There are many kinds of books "scattered" around our house. Our kids have lots of books. In fact, I think they have more books than toys.
· Use your finger to track words as you read. There was a time when I felt that it was useless to point at words using my fingers as I read to my child since he looks at many things while we are reading. Last night, I learned and understood the reason why we are encouraged to do this when reading to children. It helps them learn even as they passivly see or observe you do this repeatedly every time you read. Eventually they realize and learn to read from left to right, word for word, from top to bottom. It's amazing how our brains work and how i witnessed my son learn this skill even as he sometimes walks around the room while I'm not yet finished reading a story. I could still remember one time when I asked him if he still wants me to continue reading. I was somehow irritated and annoyed that he was walking around and no longer looking at me or the book I was reading. I was surprised when he aske dme to continue and when he was able to answer my questions about the story correctly as I tested his listening and comprehension skills.
· Point at pictures and name them as you read or turn the pages of the book. My firstborn son could already identify the letters of the alphabet even as a baby who could not articulate or say his letters yet. He would point to them or tap at the page of the book whenever I asked him. My second son shows signs as well of early recognition of pictures and objects around him. It's amazing how observant and attentive kids/babies are!
· Let your children see you reading. Readers raise readers. Children like to imitate. Their brains are wired to learn that way. They learn by copying. That's another thing I learned last night. So, let your kids catch you reading. They'll do the same even when they do not know how to read on their own yet. Our eldest son used to pretend he was reading his books before. Either he would recite the stories he already memorized or make up his own words while turning the pages of his book or any book he lays his hands on as he sees me and my husband read at home.
· Give your children books as gifts. I like buying books. I used to spend much of my salary buying books when I was single. Now that I'm a mom, I spend most of my "little income" buying books for my kids. I buy them books more often than I buy toys because I know based on experience that the benefits and joys that a book can bring lasts longer than what toys bring.
· Engage the child while reading by asking questions about the pictures or illustrations in the book or about the story (i.e. the characters, the sequence of events, possible reasons behind the actions of the characters, etc.). This practice helps develop your child's language and communication skills further.
· Let your child ask questions about the story as well. Don't rush to finish reading the story or to end your reading time. Test his understanding and listening skills.
There is so much I want to share but I need to stop now. :) Let me end by sharing a quote from one of the materials I read on this topic.
"Parenting is the primary influence on children's development" according to the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Parenting practices such as reading to children, using complex language, responsiveness, and warmth in interactions are all associated with better developmental outcomes."