December 7, 1998
The Best Holiday Gift: Read With a Young Child
by Karen Blaha, NW Regional Educational Laboratory
When children read well, their learning life soars and surges with vast potential for future development. But when the opposite is true and children read poorly, doors are shut, possibilities foreclosed, school and learning become a drudge--or worse. As a result, the child who cannot read well--and the adult yet to be--suffers.
Through research, much has been discovered about the conditions under which children learn to love reading, and those conditions should be put in place very early.
Dr. Rebecca Novick, a Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory researcher in early-childhood education, pulled together a vast body of findings about reading and the preschool and primary school years. She writes about the finding in her new book, Learning to Read and Write--A Place to Start.
There is abundant evidence, says Novick, that families who place importance on reading, writing, and speaking, providing warm and wide opportunities for reading storybooks, tend to have children who are early and competent readers. It's easy to see why it's essential that families and other caregivers strive to create an environment where reading is enjoyed and books are shared.
And, advises Novick, it's never too early to start reading to children. For example:
The nurturing environment enveloping a young child when stories are shared with caring adults is the best gift families and caregivers can offer children, starting them on an exciting road to learning.
- Bright colorful pictures captivate even very young infants whose eyes are just learning to focus. And even before their eyes can focus, the sound of the reader's voice engages the baby's attention.
- At the age of four to six months, infants are able to focus on pictures, and eye-hand coordination is coming together. This is a good time to introduce point-and-say books. By the end of their first year, many toddlers can point to the pictures themselves. This is an important step in learning language.
- Short, familiar books are a huge hit with the younger set. The rhythm and repetition of nursery rhymes, for example, make friends of sounds and words. As the same favorites are read over and over--and over yet again--a preschooler may start to recognize some words, another important step in language, as print is matched to sound. The rhymes and sounds that children so enjoy as toddlers carry a value that is added to the fun: they help to build awareness of phonemes, a critical skill in learning to read.
- Preschoolers need closeness and cuddling. The warm, highly personal sharing of a book between a child and adult fosters a love of reading. It's a good idea to let the child lead the reading, choosing the book and the place to start. Be very generous with ample time for children to look at pictures; they provide clues to the story.