One of the major tasks of early education is helping children begin to acquire the skills which will help them become readers. Teachers use a multitude of techniques, games and activities to help teach these skills, but the love of reading and the desire to learn to read are not always as easy to teach in a school setting. It is difficult to duplicate the warm and intimate moments between parent and child which begin a (hopefully) lifelong love of reading. The desire and motivation to learn how to read grows when a child has many positive and meaningful interactions with language, stories, and print with their parents, caregivers and other family members.
Reading doesn’t happen just because a child learns the alphabet and has lots of books at home, although these things are both important. Because reading grows out of oral language, the foundation for reading is laid in a child’s life long before they can even speak. These experiences begin with those little “conversations” adults have with children beginning in infancy, and which continue and expand every day of a child’s life. These conversations involve every-day topics, but they should also include silly rhymes, poems, chants, jokes, and songs. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between academic achievement and the amount and quality of oral language a child is exposed to between the ages of birth and three years. Additionally, the development of literacy skills cannot be separated from development of the other developmental domains. Language development, cognitive development, social development, emotional development, and even motor development are all intertwined and growth in each of these domains reflects that interdependence.
Reading aloud to a child supports his cognitive development by building on his ever-expanding knowledge, abilities and interests. Quality stories have the ability to draw children in and hold their attention while their brains are experiencing the vocabulary, syntax, sensory images and rhythmic flow of the English language. Stories can introduce children to people whose lives and/or cultures are very different than their own. They help expand a child’s intellectual universe with new ideas, discoveries and concepts. And, excellent stories can even help children manage life experiences such as friendship, common fears, or even the death of a loved one. The stories children hear are often integrated into their independent and social play, thus providing opportunities for their social and emotional growth. And you thought you were “just reading a bedtime story”!!
So, the next time you are snuggled up with your child and reading their favorite stories (yet again!), remember that you are doing much more than building a stronger relationship and helping them prepare for bed, you are giving your child’s brain the experiences and raw materials which will help them not only succeed at learning to read, but also loving it!
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