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Most parents expect their children to learn to read when they enter kindergarten at five or six years old. However, some parents and scientists are finding out that the ideal time to teach a child to read may in fact be much sooner.
Dr. Maria Montessori, scientist and founder of the widely known Montessori Method, refers to a child’s brain during the ages of zero to six as “the absorbent mind.” It is during this time that children experience 90 percent of their lifetime brain development. As a result, they effortlessly soak up new information due to a high degree of neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change and form new connections. Young children are simply able to learn faster and more efficiently than adults.
Children learn to speak their native language without specifically being taught because they are in this absorbent state. By exposing children to written language in the same way that they are exposed to verbal language during this period, they can learn to read at the same time they are learning to talk.
Children who are early readers advance rapidly in school, can better comprehend the world around them at an earlier age, and typically score higher on IQ tests. Early childhood reading techniques stimulate brain development and can be especially beneficial for special needs children. According to Professor Sue Buckley OBE, chief scientist at Down Syndrome Education International, teaching reading skills as part of an early intervention program “can transform outcomes for young people with Down syndrome, enabling them to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.”
As a parent, you can help your child during formative years by creating a language-rich home environment. One popular way to introduce words and letters is by using flashcards with extra-large font. Initially, choose words and pictures of your child’s favorite people and things. The flashcards should always be presented as cheerfully as possible. Play is the work of a child, and they learn best while having fun.
Busy parents with no time to prepare homemade flashcards may opt to use computer software or DVD flashcard programs specifically designed to teach young children to read. If you allow your child to watch television, consider replacing their current programs with educational DVDs that provide a substantial amount of written language on-screen. This simple change can make a dramatic impact in your child’s reading development. Cartoons that teach the alphabet, letter sounds, and word blending are an excellent option.
Some additional ideas include:
• Provide your child with multi-sensory alphabet toys, such as texturized foam letters during bath time or ABC fridge magnets that sing letter sounds.
• Look for books with very large font placed preferably on the opposite page of the illustration. Children also adore “touch and feel” books that offer tactile exploration.
• Create custom books printed on cardstock using very large text and personal photographs. Laminate the pages or slip them into protective plastic sleeves for durability. A book about your child’s “Favorite Things” is sure to captivate!
• Label your home with printed stickers identifying the names of common household items and furniture. Point them out to your child throughout the day.
• Run your finger smoothly under the words as you read aloud to your child during story time. This helps children begin to identify words and ingrains that reading patterns are always left to right.
• Create fun routines for presenting lessons, such as showing flashcards in their highchair during snack time or singing the ABC’s at every diaper change. Routines give children comfort in knowing what to expect, and they help busy parents consistently fit lessons into their day.
Using these simple techniques helped me provide a reading-ready environment for my own daughter, Lily, who began to demonstrate an interest in letters and words at 14 months old. Through the use of carefully selected language-based DVDs and flashcards, Lily began sounding out basic words phonetically by 19 months old. Some may consider it an accomplishment, but to Lily and other young children like her, learning is just a game.
Encourage your child to blossom, but follow her lead and observe the need for balance in her life. Brief lessons incorporated into your child’s day should always be paired with far more hands-on exploration and playtime with Mom or Dad. Use learning time as a way to strengthen parent-child bonds, and soon, you too can watch your little one joyously unwrap the gift of early literacy.