Parents and teachers play an important part in an infant’s reading development. Infants become better readers when they are continually exposed to words and language. When we mimick an infant’s cooing and babbling, we are engaging the infant in conversation. These early attempts at language development are being reinforced, while he/she is learning the “give and take” of conversation. Adults in an infant’s world can also practice “self-talk” and “parallel talk”. Self-talk is the act of describing what you are doing or what you are going to do (i.e. “I am going to pick you up and change your diaper. Is that alright with you?”) Parallel talk is a narrative of what the infant is doing (i.e. “I see that you are trying to reach that orange ball. Stretch a little more and I think that you can get it.”) At first, infants will not understand, but as they develop and learn, they will associate words with objects and actions.
Songs are a great way to expose an infant to language. “Patty-cake”, “This Little Piggy went to Market” and just about any child’s rhyme or nursery song are good activities for infants. Over time, the infant will make the connection between words and actions.
Young children with a large vocabulary are usually more successful in learning to read. Teachers and parents should have “conversations” with the infants and explain what is happening in their world. Infants exposed to language, reading and books at an early age become better readers and more successful students.
The rhythm or cadence of reading is more important to infants than the material being read. The cadence conveys emotion, and can help keep an infant more attentive and interested. Stand up infant books (hardboard) in their crib or on the floor beside them so that they can see the pictures. When the infant is four to six months old, switch to cloth books that are easier for the child to grasp and can be wiped clean when soiled. Once an infant reaches 7 to 12 months, go back to board books because the pages are easier for them to turn.
Reading to infants happens in spurts. Their short attention spans and natural curiosity about everything around them will make sit-down reading sessions unlikely. However, these moments are important in developing good readers. At this age, it’s good to use books with labeled objects so that the infant begins to associate the printed words with actual real-life objects. It’s also good to provide context or a comment about the object. For example, “Here’s a ball, your ball is in the toy box.”
The toddler teachers’ role is to expand the work of the infant teacher. Provide toddlers with books that contain colorful, but simple pictures that are relevant to them. Again, board books work best for this age. Using everyday objects around the house or center, “read” to the children by pointing out the object and encouraging a conversation about it. For example, “What is that? It says meow.” This is a great time to introduce Bible based toddler books with pictures of animals and people from the Bible.
According to the book, Things to Do With Toddlers and Twos, adults would do well to use the “flop and do” method of book reading. When a toddler says “read” and brings you a book, adults should be prepared to “flop” (sit down) and “do” (read the book.) Toddlers listen longer when it is their idea to read rather than at a set story time. As the toddler grows into a two-year old, he will enjoy books with repetition, rhymes and pictures that relate closely to the words (i.e. Brown Bear, Brown Bear). Preschoolers Preschool teachers should be committed to providing enriching activities that develop children as readers.
The most important thing you can do to develop pre-school readers is to read to them often. Books that have repetitive phrases, few words on a page, and topics that children can relate to are popular with three-year olds. Older children are interested in longer books with more complicated stories. Create a print rich environment by labeling objects in your room or turning your dramatic play area into a restaurant and making menus. Children need to understand the connection between reading and writing. Language experience stories are an effective way to help children understand “what I think can be spoken, what can be spoken can be written down and what can be written down can be read.”
After a field trip, ask children “what was your favorite part of the trip?” Write down their answers and read them back to the children. Writing a title on a painting, creating a Mother’s Day card, making a book with their drawings and their words, or just writing down whatever the child wishes will help the child make the critical connection between reading and writing. Encourage children to “play with words” by reading and acting out nursery rhymes and poetry. A favorite of four-year olds is Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. Sing songs, make up poems and let children fill in the rhyming words. Sharing informal conversations with children is the best way to build their vocabulary and help them begin to use higher level sentence structure. Stimulate this through conversations you have with the children away from class time such as at lunch or snack time, on the playground or during dramatic play time.
Talk about the alphabet as it relates to the child’s real experiences. Ask about the letter that begins his/her name. (i.e. “Your name begins with a ‘J’. Who else’s name begins with a ‘J’?”). These types of teachable moments occur all the time. They are learning opportunities that are not in your activity plans, but just happen. Take advantage of these times to help children read.
Create a cozy reading area with quality early childhood books, placed neatly on a shelf where children can see the book cover. Be sure to rotate the books periodically based on your theme or the season of the year, but make sure that alphabet books are always included. In addition to reading to large groups of children, spend time reading in small groups to a few children at a time. Christian childcare means having fun Bible illustrations and books and reading about some of the basic stories in the Bible. Little Arrows is working to be the premiere Christian childcare facility in Florissant.