Many programs, books, initiatives, and indeed even this blog are geared toward EARLY reading skills.  Unfortunately, it holds true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of intervention.   If you can build the needed oral language skills as children are developing, those skills usually parlay into written language skills – reading, writing, and spelling.

I have not yet had a child come into my office with difficulty in reading, writing, and/or spelling that did NOT fail at least a couple subtests on oral language assessments.

Careful assessment reveals the underlying nature of reading problems.  Intervention works, but it is definitely an investment of resources.  It is never too late to work on reading problems, and effective programs will ALWAYS go after ORAL language skills in concert with written language skills.  Tackling “reading” in a vacuum is a recipe for failure.

And now to hop off the soapbox and move onward to the blogging!

Exposing children to literature at an early age can help them develop a love for reading and intensify their growth potential. It can encourage insightful reasoning, critical thinking, social thinking, and improve communication – both understanding and expression. Children who get an early start on reading are more likely to become lifelong readers.  Research shows that the number of books in a home is predictive of which children will later demonstrate academic success.  This doesn’t mean you need to run out and buy up everything your local Usborne books rep has to offer; but it DOES mean that you should access the plethora of high-quality books that are available at local as well as online libraries!

Research further indicates that the more education that parents have, the more likely their children are to have academic success.  This interaction was even more powerful for mothers – the higher a mother’s level of education, the more likely the children were to demonstrate success.  It makes sense on some level – but why?

First, young children often spend more time with their mothers; and they often have a preferential “ear” for their mother’s language and speech patterns.  Kids listen to how their moms talk more attentively or differently than other adults and peers.  It is typically the largest influence on developing children’s language.

So, what is it about the mother’s education level that seems to make a difference?  Vocabulary.  Educated parents tend to use a more diverse vocabulary in everyday conversation with their children.  So, it all comes down to exposure.  Well, contextual exposure.  Reading your kid the dictionary won’t really do it.  Well, engagement and context.  If the child isn’t listening or doesn’t care, they won’t learn much, really.

Does that mean that mothers out there should run out and find a PHD program? No.  Instead, use a varied vocabulary.  Don’t “dumb it down” for your kid.  Encourage them to ask questions about words and things they don’t understand.  Take the time to explain words, provide definitions, provide contextual examples of the word or concept in use, or offer synonyms.  I routinely look things up with my kids.  When they ask, I say, “Let’s find out!”.  I don’t want to be a life-long source of knowledge for my children; I want to empower them to be inquisitive, and to figure out a way to find the information they need.

Reading puts children on a path to success, increasing their general awareness of the world, and a better understanding of it. Studies show that reading skills have a positive impact on a child’s literacy development, exhibiting strength in reading attainment and writing ability, breadth of vocabulary, and greater self-confidence as a reader. Kids who read are more likely to demonstrate an understanding of other cultures, participate in community activities, and be better decision-makers.

Parents play an essential role in the early development of literacy. The evidence all points to positive outcomes when it comes to investing in your child’s reading skills in the first years. The earlier you start, the more likely you will avoid your child having trouble reading later in life. You can start reading books to your newborn, and continue to reinforce those habits into the toddler years. Here are several ways you can encourage positive reading habits in your toddler: 

1. Keep books within your toddler’s reach

Place books on a stable shelf that is at eye level for your toddler. Whenever possible, display them with the covers facing forward as the bright pictures can attract their interest and make them curious about the books. Keeping books within their reach encourages them to take the book and fiddle with it, even if they aren’t reading on their own just yet.

Yes, there will be some carnage.  I have a couple dozen pop-up books that no longer pop.  However, there are some great “board book” out there.  With soft cover books, I have cut the pages out of the binding and laminated them or put them in page protectors and put them on a key ring in a plastic Duo-Tang.

2. Read in a distraction-free environment

When reading to your young child, go to a quiet, brightly-lit area of your home away from any distractions, especially mobile phones and televisions. Allow your child to concentrate and focus on the book in front of them. Don’t hold your phone while reading as they can sense when you are out of focus as well.   Engage with the book, engage with your child, match their energy, and let them know you are “with” them.  Kids soak up this kind of bonding, and it gets “paired” with external stimulus such as places or activities.  I assert we all have some fond memories of places or activities with our parents we can conjure up.  This is the juice I am talking about.

3. Read aloud and interact with your child

Reading time should be a way to stimulate your child, so read emphatically and try changing the tone of your voice as you read the story. Impersonate the characters and articulate the emotions, even exaggerate for effect. Ask your child questions along the way, and engage them constantly to keep their attention from drifting.  “it ain’t television, people!” – make it interactive, take their suggestions, encourage them to participate, and always, always remember it doesn’t have to look any certain way.  Read the book backward.  Skip pages.  Change the words.  Don’t get locked into thinking a book is a “script”.  It’s not; it’s a STORY.  Every listen to Robert Munsch “read” a story? (if not, you MUST!).  I bet he never, ever, tells a story exactly the same way twice.  And he’s written a million books and made a billion dollars and kids love him.  So there … science.

4. Incorporate toys and visual aids when reading

Toddlers have very short attention spans, so to keep them interested in a storybook may require more effort at first, especially if the book is new to them. You can use some of their toys that are related to the story, like stuffed animals, toy cars, or fruits and other food. Highlight the similarities of the object and the pictures and let the visual aid act out the storylines.

Many books now have companion web pages with extension activities, visuals you can print off and use for props or to have the children participate, etc.  You may be able to find someone reading the story on YouTube or find an animated story app.  Hop over into imagination land, incorporate some pretend play, and let the story leap off the page and exist in the 5 senses.

5. Read in short intervals (and follow their interests!)

You can read one book at a time if your child isn’t used to sitting still just yet. You don’t need to pressure your child to sit down and read with you for hours, as it may be impossible to keep them in one place. Use age-appropriate books with stories that are short enough to finish in a few minutes. You can work towards building your child’s attention span by reading two books at a time, then three, and so on.

Always, always follow your child’s lead.  When I used to go into daycares, pre-schools, and school settings I had a real pet peeve, especially when working with Autistic children, and my pet peeve was this:  The caregiver/teacher person would have a timer, a first-then board, some pictures, wiggly cushions, whatever it took to try to get the student to remain sitting at the carpet to finish the puzzle.  There would be one piece left, and then the puzzle would be complete, and then they could go have snack.  And the child would dig in their heels.  They didn’t WANT to do one more puzzle piece!  The inevitable power struggle and meltdown would ensue.  And I always thought:  Why is this the mountain we want to die on?  Why are we so invested in one puzzle piece?  What do we think will be accomplished by finishing that puzzle?

FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S LEAD.  If your child isn’t motivated and engaged, we’ve got nothing.  We are wasting breath.  If they want to change book half-way, change books half-way.  If they want to run and look out the window to see the truck that they can hear backing up, run to the window and look at trucks.  Entice them back to the book; if it’s a no, let it be a no.  Act out something from the book instead – play 3 little pigs and start huffing and puffing and chase your child up to their bedroom!

Fun.  Engagement.  Connection.  Children feeling like they have some say (within reasons – start setting boundaries early!).  These things will pave the way for literacy development.

Learning to read takes practice and a lot of patience on the part of the parent. Create a nurturing environment at home that encourages building reading skills. While it can get challenging at times for both you and your child, the benefits of reading will undeniably last a lifetime.

Are you looking for more ways to instill positive reading habits in your child? We offer reading programs in Calgary that can help children of all ages learn to love and excel at reading. Get in touch with us today and see how we can help!