Feed your child’s brain during “March is Reading Month”

Share everyday activities with infants and toddlers that take little time and reap big rewards.

Have you ever spoken to a newborn baby? Have you whispered “I love you” in a baby’s tiny ear? Whatever you whispered to the baby really didn’t matter. From that very first whisper or private quiet bedtime conversation you began to teach that child to read. Whether the baby is a few days old, a busy toddler or beginning daycare or school, there is so much that you can do to ensure that a child becomes a reader. Michigan State University Extension says that parents and those who provide primary care for children are their first teachers.

As you read this article, you are incorporating a vast number of literacy skills that you learned as a child. When you hold your morning newspaper, follow a recipe in a cookbook, or read a magazine article right-side up, you are using reading skills. When you read print from left to right, turn pages from right to left and recognize that all the marks on a page are language, you are again using reading skills.

The most important of all of your literacy skills and arguably, the most vital one for babies is language. Talking, singing and reading out-loud are all communication skills that you can use in your job as your child’s first teacher. Every time you talk to a child you are helping to raise a reader. It is as simple and important. A child can only learn language by hearing it, experiencing it and trying it on their own.

When you read to an infant, his brain is engaged. It is never too early to begin reading to a child. Flash cards, television and computer programs cannot be substituted for human language. Hearing the sound of the human voice is as essential to a child’s health and well-being as feeding him.

The United States Department of Education, in the publication Feed me a Story, informs us that “if daily reading for 30 minutes a day begins at birth, by the time the child is 5-years-old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food.” In comparison, if that time is reduced to 30 minutes a week, a child will begin kindergarten with only 130 hours of similar brain food.

By talking, singing, reading and communicating with a child, you are teaching him what every human being needs to survive – communication.

March is Reading Month. This is a great time to recommit to sharing literacy activities every day with the children in your life. Reading does not have to be a once a day, sit down and listen experience for the child and caregiver. Some ideas from A Lullaby of Sounds and Words that you can use with the infants and toddlers in your life might include:

  • Read - Read stories, the newspaper or your cookbook out-loud. Point to pictures and tell her what they are. Share lots of cuddling during lap-time. Read every day and explore lots of new books.
  • Talk - Tell him what you’re doing during day time routines; bath, meal time, play. Name objects and talk about them. Ask lots of questions about stories. Use the child’s name often - this is probably the first word she’ll recognize in print.
  • Listen - Really listen to the child and repeat her sounds back to her. Listen for new sounds and encourage imitation. Encourage the child’s descriptions of pictures by listening with your full attending.
  • Sing - Sing silly songs, using lots of exaggerated facial expressions. Sing everywhere; in the car, at the grocery store and during bath time. Make up songs or share those that you knew as a child; the alphabet song or Itsy Bitsy Spider.
  • Do - Hold your baby, enjoy tummy-time together and share sturdy books (cloth, washable and board). Point to objects and name them. Have the child share his name for objects. Introduce writing materials to encourage small motor-skills. Introduce your child to your local library. Many libraries host story hours for very young children.

There are many good web resources for families that are easy to access right from home. Explore eXtension for story stretchers and finger plays and songs to use as you enjoy reading month with the little ones in your life. For more articles on child development, academic success and parenting, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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