TAHOE/TRUCKEE — The evidence is irrefutable: Brain research and longitudinal studies of children have proven that the capacity to learn is a combination of nature and nurture.
Nature provides the complex system of brain circuitry, but how it is wired depends upon your child’s environment. Early experiences determine the brain’s structures and capacities, and the quality, quantity and consistency of stimulation are the key to healthy brain development.
There are windows of opportunity when the brain is more capable of learning certain functions and the first 5 years of life are especially critical. Reading to your child and expanding his vocabulary in a language- rich environment provide the platform for academic success, beginning at birth.
Read aloud every day
One of the most important ways to enhance your child’s brain development and ensure your child’s reading success is to read aloud to her every day. This builds the strong foundation for literacy development during the school years.
Success in reading by the end of grade 3 is a predictor of a child’s future academic achievement. Parents are the child’s first and most important teachers, so parents need to read, read, read.
Six steps to success in reading stories aloud
1. Select quality literature. Find book lists and recommendations at your local library and bookstore.
2. Read the book to yourself a few times before reading aloud to understand the story line and to know what voice and inflections to use.
3. Create the mood by inviting your child to snuggle up to read, but even if your child isn’t sitting next to you, he will benefit from the warmth in your voice and the language of the book.
4. Interact with your child during the story by asking what she thinks will happen next or point to an illustration and ask what colors she sees.
5. Be patient in answering questions — questions mean he is engaged and interested.
6. Have fun! Research shows that parents who convey reading as entertaining and fun create a love of reading in their children.
Even without words, these books have a wonderful story to tell. Readers interpret the story from the illustrations, examining details and expressions. Everyone, no matter a person’s age, native language or literacy level, can enjoy wordless books.
Two of the best reasons to read wordless books are that they allow you and your child to use your imaginations to create the story AND you can read the story a different way every time you open the book.
Tips for reading with infants
• Look for Board Books of sturdy laminated cardboard. They are easy for babies to manipulate.
• Cloth Books made of heavy-duty cloth are easy to clean in the washing machine.
• Soft Plastic Books are great for the bathtub. (Beware that if the pages get torn, the edges may be sharp.)
• Follow your baby’s lead. She will hold the book upside down, open it to the middle and chew on it. At this age, there is no wrong way to enjoy a book. Having fun with books and language is more important that the book’s story line.
• In selecting books for infants, look for illustrations that are large, colorful, bold and simple, with contrast between light and dark. Stories you read should be short. Books might include: rhyme, rhythm and repetition; pictures of other babies; books with textures; nursery rhymes; sound books; poetry books; and books that are interesting to you, too!
Tips for reading with toddlers
Keeping your busy toddler interested in books and book play may require special techniques and practice, but having a young child who loves books will make the extra effort worthwhile.
• Choose pictures that are colorful, simple and realistic.
• Let your toddler stand while you read. If she walks away to play with toys, she may come back at an interesting part. Keep reading — your toddler will benefit from the language in the story.
• Exaggerate rhymes and actions. Involve your toddler — have him find things in the picture
• Follow your child’s lead. Name what he points to and talk about it. Include cuddling with your toddler. Children who learn to associate reading with warmth and security will enjoy books and reading later in life.
Tips for reading with preschoolers
• Set a mood: Let your child know how much you look forward to this time
• Have patience: Take time to answer your child’s questions
• Set a good pace: don’t rush through the book
• Choose books that challenge your child’s mind and interests
• Plan ahead by going to the library with your child to pick out books. Place them on your child’s bed and remind him that you will be reading together each night.
• Too tired to hold a book? Tell a story that you know or make one up together. Making up a story with your child stimulates creativity and is a nice change of pace.
— Ruth Jackson Hall is Early Learning Coordinator for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. For more information, call 530-582-2583 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Placer and Nevada County First 5 Commissions and the University of California Cooperative Extension for their support for early literacy and for material used in this article.