In this series, we explore ways to provide our youngest learners with a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy before they go to school.
In part one, we’re taking a look at ways to foster literacy from birth.
When my son was born, I knew that I did not want to be the kind of mom who drilled him with flashcards. (I always think of Rick Moranis’s character in the movie Parenthood!) On the other hand, I knew that there were choices that I could make for our home environment that would foster his literacy and numeracy from a young age – choices that would allow him to explore reading and math if he were interested without forcing it.
Where did we start?
1. Read aloud from birth.
From the time that a baby is first born, the baby benefits from hearing you read aloud. You don’t have to feel limited to baby books; you can read aloud from whatever you’re enjoying at the moment. I remember one of our first babysitters reading to my three-month-old son from her graduate school assignment on racial and economic justice for undocumented domestic workers! In our early months as first-time parents, my husband could sometimes be found in the pre-dawn hours deliriously reading aloud to our infant so that I could get some precious extra sleep.
Don’t judge yourself; just do it. Whether you’re reading People magazine, your company’s quarterly earnings report, or the latest National Book Award winner, read it out loud where your baby can hear you.
2. Make books a “yes” material.
You may already be familiar with the benefits of creating a “yes” space for your child: a space in your home where your child is free to explore without the limitations of unsafe or breakable items. In our house, we make books a “yes” material.
As soon as our son was able to reach and grab, we put plenty of books within his reach. They were books that he could explore without adult interference – even if his exploration involved tasting or toppling the books. We moved any books that were delicate or precious, such as our wedding album, out of his reach. That way, all of his early interactions with books were positive; we always said “yes,” and we never said “no.”
3. Model reading.
From birth, your child is observing what her family values. She is learning to mimic the behaviors that you model for her. The infant who observes her family regularly cooking meals together will become a toddler who wants to help in the kitchen. The infant who observes his family playing guitar or piano will become a toddler who reaches for the strings or keys. If your baby regularly observes your family enjoying independent reading time, he will join you.
It will take time for his attempts to take shape, but he is practicing and improving. At first, he’ll see you reading, and he’ll grab and pull books off the shelf. Later, he may turn pages and make sounds. He’ll ask you to read aloud to him, first with gestures and later with words. You may find him “reading” to himself or his dolls by reciting words that have no correlation to the words actually on the page. Later, he’ll memorize books as you read them aloud and then recite them from memory as he turns the pages. Ultimately, he will learn to read. Each of these steps is a part of his emerging literacy, and you can encourage every step along the way.
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Which is more likely to inspire a love of reading: this type of organic fostering of literacy or waiting until your child is school age and telling her to go read while you do something else?
It can be easier to make time for your own reading during your commute or after your little one is tucked in for the night, but I encourage you to spend time reading while your whole family is together.
Stay tuned for part two, in which we explore sound and matching games and share stress-free ways to introduce one-to-one correspondence.