Saturday, April 18, 2009

Can Your Infant Read Yet?

Before you know it your precious bundle of joy will be running off to kindergarten. You may still measure her age in months but in no time at all the government will be measuring her test scores in hard, fast, quantifiable statistics so there’s no time like the present to get started…

Don’t panic if you didn’t read to your child in utero – although research clearly shows that this is advantageous you can catch up! The effects were, after all, short lived and only applied to recognition not comprehension anyway.

If you forgot to play classical music to you infant to capitalize on the much publicized “Mozart Effect” rest assured that it wasn’t a real phenomenon anyway. As appealing as it sounds, to think that playing classical music will make your prodigy smarter, there is no data to support this myth. Do however play music to your infants and toddlers because it is soothing and great to listen to…

Before you plop your precious bundle of joy in front of the television for some neural enhancement courtesy of Einstein or the like remember the words of the great developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, who said that children learn by doing – not watching. I know, I know he seems to love the stimulation but any interaction between you and your child is worth far more than any program on television. You provide vital feedback and hands on interactions that are both key components of the learning process. Remember that children think and learn differently than adults. You have to think as a child thinks.

Forget the computer too. She won’t learn to read with all the latest software, gyzmos and gadgets. Sorry to burst that technological bubble but there are no pixel tricks to ease the process.

Reading takes time, human interaction, patience and trust. Read to your infants and toddlers. Read to them at breakfast, read to them at playtime and recite poetry to them while you are out walking. Expose them to print and introduce them to the joy of reading. Be a good role model. Let your children see you reading. Snuggle up close and make it an enjoyable experience that your child will eagerly anticipate. Turn reading into an adventure. Solve mysteries together and anticipate what characters will do next. Discuss the people and the events that you are reading about. Read about events and people that your infant and toddler has experience with – create a shared imaginary world together.

Reread stories and poems so that your child gains familiarity with the words. Let her predict the next word by pausing – remember, long before she speaks, she can comprehend. Ask her questions even if she is too little to respond verbally. Act out the stories and bring them to life.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verse” is a great place to start for poetry. Odgen Nash has some fun and nonsense rhymes that children love. Sandra Boynton’s books are an ideal introduction to print. They are fun, lively stories with bright, colorful and inviting illustrations. Dr. Seuss is another great source. His nonsense words and ridiculous themes turn reading into adventure, mayhem and madness – the good kind! Look out for Horton, the Sneeches and Sam-I-am to name but a few.

Talking also nurtures that vocabulary growth that is essential to reading and learning. Remember, your infant will utter one or two words by her first birthday and within a year you should hear over 400 utterances. You are charged with the responsibility of exposing your child to a rich vocabulary filled environment. Don’t forget, those words are experience long before you hear her utter them and there is no time like the present to get started.

Laying the foundations for reading can be an exciting journey. Focus on stories, plots and characters and avoid the urge to teach letters and sounds. The brain is not mature enough yet. Consider instead, how you can spend those quality interactions.

You may feel pressure to spend those toddler and preschool years on drill and practice that is narrowly focused on letters and sounds. The decoding process needs to wait until 2 key elements are in place. Firstly, your child’s eye sight needs to mature – this can take until around 5 years of age. Remember, you can discern a “p” from a “q” or a “d” from a “b” but to the immature eye they are all so very similar that it is not a good use of your time to focus on those minor differences. If you rush this process then you risk a sense of frustration and failure that may show itself in behavior problems or a reluctance to learn. Secondly, the brain has to develop.

Let’s not forget, your child has to have a need to read. What, after all, should toddlers do with print; follow a recipe? Read the newspaper? Your goal during these formative years is to develop a “need to read” within the risk free and nurturing environment of your home. Unlock the magic of literature and the rest will fall into place …


  1. I really enjoy reading your points of view and the presentation of information you provide here on your blog!! Thanks so much!! I am a new mom and I am sure i can come up with some topics for you to ponder!! Thanks!!

  2. Princess Mar,

    Thank you for your kind words. Enjoy the blog and post any questions that you may have..

    Also, enjoy your baby, do you have a boy or a girl?