As standardized testing becomes more and more popular in schools, more pressure is placed on a child’s academic performance.
And parents feel the pressure, too. They ask whether they can give their kids a head start by teaching them to read and write before they even begin kindergarten or preschool.
But if you try to teach these subjects while the child is still so young, do you rob them of precious time they’ll never get back?
Baby Brain Facts
The first three years of a baby’s life are so important. What happens during this time determines how the baby’s brain will develop.
In the first year alone, the baby’s brain triples in size, and up until the age of three, the brain creates 700 new, neural pathways each and every second.
What the baby experiences during these formative years has a huge influence on the types of connections being built in the brain. Among many other things, these connections will help children develop language and communication skills.
So, before you think about teaching your little one how to read, think about how you can support their brain development. A healthy brain with hundreds of strong neural pathways will help your child to read and write.
Communication is Key
The best way to support your child’s brain development and ensure that she’ll be a good student is to interact every day in loving, meaningful ways. Your baby’s brain is already well-equipped and ready to process all the information coming to her.
At birth, a baby’s brain can differentiate between all 800 sounds used across every language. By communicating and interacting with your child, you can help them to both learn and acquire strong language skills. This will allow them to pick up on reading and writing as they grow.
How to Build Language Skills from Birth
Before you teach the written version of a language, help them develop the spoken language first. You can do this by thinking of your child as your equal and whenever you talk with him or her. This encourages them to interact with you and develop their language skills.
And though those first years are a bit too early for some parents to try teaching a child how to read and write, you can always read to them from the very beginning.
By showing your children that written language is valuable and fun, they’ll become interested. As they grow, they’ll begin to match words with sound and meaning, and eventually expand their vocabulary, too. Yes, even if you read, Goodnight Moon to them.
Should Your Child Know How to Read and Write Before Preschool?
You can support a child’s language acquisition and brain development from birth. But does that mean you should make a concerted effort to teach them to read and write before preschool or even kindergarten?
Richard Gentry Ph.D., the author of Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write, says it’s easier for babies and toddlers to learn how to read than it is for a 6-year old. This is due to the brain’s growth during the earlier years.
Janet Doman, director of Institutes for Achievement of Human Potential, shares this philosophy, too. She believes that babies can be taught to read by using flashcards. However, this method is not backed by scientific research yet.
While it might seem like you’re giving your child an advantage by teaching them to read so early, allowing them to play might be more beneficial.
This is not because play translates to reading and writing skills. Instead, play is necessary for healthy brain development and the formation of strong cognition skills. In fact, play is so important for a child’s development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights declared play the right of every child.
So, if you do decide to begin early instruction, try to always balance it with lots of playtime. You can even make instruction fun, engaging and entertaining so that the important right to play won’t be taken away from your child.
How to Teach Reading and Writing to Your Young Child or Toddler
If you feel that your child is both ready and interested in learning these two subjects, here are some suggestions to make the process both fun and formative.
- Read descriptive and detailed stories to your child. You can match the illustrations with the words and different sounds with their corresponding letters. Invite your child to engage by asking them open-ended questions about the plot. As they get older, invite them to tell you the story.
- Teach the alphabet with any of the following ideas: Sing the ABC’s. Play with alphabet fridge magnets, and ask children to match the name of the letter to the letter itself. They can also become familiar with the alphabet with letter cards, coloring books, and illustrated books.
- Introduce pencils to your child’s collection of crayons and markers. Show them the proper way to hold it. At first, don’t focus on writing letters. Just let them feel comfortable holding a pencil correctly and drawing with it.
- Your child has already seen hundreds of words and letters in the many books you read to her. Now, show her how to trace them with her new pencil. To make it more fun and pertinent, allow the child to trace her own name, as well as any other significant names. Names of friends, family members, favorite movie characters, and foods are all fun ways to make writing relevant to their life experiences.
- Never associate reading and writing with negativity. For example, don’t use these subjects as a threat to garner good behavior, or as a punishment for bad behavior. Instead, always present reading and writing as a fun, positive and good thing. By doing so, your child won’t resist it or see these subjects as a chore.
Giving your child lots of exposure to the written word when they’re very young helps them succeed in reading and writing.
And since they will spend many years in education systems, and then careers, remember to preserve this creative and playful time of their life, even while teaching them these important subjects.