Reading is an ‘unnatural activity’ – which is to say that we are not naturally ‘wired’ for it. In learning to read, the human brain ‘colonises and reprogrammes’ areas which were originally evolved to perform very different functions. This is a slow and intricate process, which is not achieved by accident. Our children only learn to read through experience:
- Experience of the spoken language
- Experience of being read to
- Experience of the intricate sounds and rhythms of words
- Experience of being ‘hands-on’ with books
- How they are held and opened
- The flow-direction of the text; and
- How symbols on the page connect to pictures and meaning
- Experience of the mysterious relationship between symbols and sounds, which we know as phonics
The most important thing we can do for our children in the pre-school years – beginning from birth – is to give them the experiences that prepare their brains for the act of reading, and link reading emotionally with fun, security and pleasure, and with a sense of achievement.
This means that even before your child is old enough to make sense of letters and words, you can share the joy of the reading experience, and start training the auditory, visual, motor and cognitive skills that will eventually come together to produce the act of reading.
And it doesn’t mean drilling them with flash-cards and boring phonics exercises. Such things mean nothing to young children, and though they may learn to parrot the sounds and mimic the behaviours you expect, research shows that the drilling is the least effective way of preparing children for a life of reading.
Developing the reading brain takes time, and it involves genetically controlled developmental processes for which there are no ‘short-cuts’. This being said, however, a child who has regularly experienced face-to-face conversation, expressive storytelling and the rhythm and rhyme of recited poetry – who has sat in a parent’s arms and shared the feel and visual excitement of a hundred (or a thousand) books, and asked and answered questions about the characters who live in them – that child will inevitably grow to become a reader.
Make story time the most fun he or she ever has. Make the story a ‘shared event’ – a positive and tactile experience, in which spoken and printed words are inextricably involved.
Try to read with your child for at least half an hour every day. Here are some tips to follow whilst you are reading:
- Be expressive – give the characters voices, even silly voices, and try to express the rhythm of the words. Even if the child is too young to understand anything about the story, you will be providing the valuable auditory experience that programmes the sound of the language into the rapidly developing brain
- If the child is old enough (say, over 18 months), ask questions, point to pictures and talk about what you see. Be careful to respond to what the child says, and offer plenty of enthusiastic praise for his/her efforts.
- Provide lots of cuddles, tickles and giggles. Physical pleasure and security cement the act of reading as a positive experience to be revisited as often as possible – the beginning of a lifelong reading habit.
Our course, as well as story time, don’t miss out on other language opportunities to naturally develop your child’s language skills.
- Point out written language in your environment – such as street signs, product names, shop-signs etc. This connects the written word with useful and important information
- Arrange ‘play-dates’ with friends – to encourage social verbal language-development through play, negotiation, discussion and wondering.
- Play with words:
- Recite Nursery Rhymes or nonsense poems
- Make up sentences that contain lots of common rhymes, like, ‘Bryce thinks rice is nice, so nice, he eats it twice!’ The words don’t have to make sense, as long as they are spoken with a sense of fun and excitement
- Talk constantly to your child. From the day he/she is born, keep up a running conversation. Tell your child what you are doing; describe things; tell him/her how much you love him/her. It isn’t the content that counts – it is the actual sound of the words and the flow of the sentences that help to programme the auditory cortex to process the sounds and structures of the language. Children who are never talked to or read to often can’t physically ‘hear’ the sounds of the language as effectively, and find it much harder to master phonics and reading whey they are older.
Written by Carmee Lim and Brian Caswell
From Magic Moments, Small Beginnings (0-24 months), Fun Activities to Nurture the ‘3 Minds’ in Your Child
Brian Caswell is an internationally acclaimed award-winning author and a respected educationalist with over 35 years of experience in the areas of public and private education. As Dean of Research and Programme Development at MindChamps, Brian has dedicated himself to creating programmes that enhance students’ learning, active recall and thinking processes, taking into account the latest research into how the brain learns and stores information.
Carmee Lim is a visionary educator who has devoted her whole life to making a positive and significant difference in the way we learn. She was the Principle of Raffles Girls’ School, one of Singapore’s top schools, for 12 years. She was also a Senior Inspector of Schools in the Ministry of Education for four years. Carmee’s keen interest in applied brain research led her to develop multi-sensory programmes for pre-school children that integrate music and gymnastics into early childhood learning.