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Parents, Families and Child Care

My Baby Can Read! Really?

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Guest blogger Debbie Bruemmer has a few words of wisdom on early literacy and language development, speaking as a parent and a parent counselor!

We hear it all the time: research tells us how very important the first three years of life are for learning and development.  We have month-by-month milestones and chart after chart to tell us if our baby is on target, or even off the charts!  We push our children at an early age so they can have an advantage for grasping knowledge and “getting ahead” for school readiness.  And now we want our babies to READ.

Earlier this month the TODAY show presented its take on the “Your Baby Can Read” program that hundreds of parents and even child care providers have fallen for. The program claims that a baby as young as three months can learn to read, not just memorize and repeat. Why are programs such as these so appealing to parents?  Obviously, we want our children to succeed!  But my heart almost stopped when I had a child care provider tell me she was using this program as part of her curriculum.

Child development experts tend to agree that the brain of a three-month-old infant is just not developed enough to read, that it is not until a child reaches the age of four or five-years-old that actual reading occurs. Literacy begins by exposing children to language at an early age, thus laying the foundation for readers. Talking to and reading aloud to your infant not only allows for a great bonding experience but creates physical responses in baby as you do so. He may not understand the words you are saying but watch his eye movements, a responsive kick or vocalization.  He hears you!  Hearing leads to listening comprehension which is the predecessor to reading comprehension.

Most babies pass through stages taking them from listening and observing to babbling, on to making words and phrases. Typically, at four-months-old a baby recognizes his or her own name and may coo and make noise when spoken to.  Receptive language (ability to understand what is being said or read) develops  between six to twelve months: babies may imitate sounds, respond to his name, and start  combining syllables into word-like sounds.  An infant’s phonemic awareness (understanding that words are made up of sounds that make different words) comes into play at eight to ten months. By eighteen months they may attempt multi-syllable words and speak three-word sentences.

Communicating with your baby evokes so many more emotive responses than plopping them down in front of a DVD.  It also promotes a closeness between the two of you, fostering emotional development, as well.  I can remember when my babies were little.  There was no greater and more comforting feeling than holding that little baby and singing a lullaby or reading “Goodnight Moon” for the umpteenth time.  Not only was it good for baby, it was good for me, too. A relationship was forming.

Having said all that, why do we think if something is costly, endorsed by someone with a degree, or sounds like a quick fix it must be good? Remember, talk is cheap, in fact, it’s free.  But it just might be the biggest investment you can make for your baby.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC) and the International Reading Association (IRA), “the single most important activity for building reading success appears to be reading aloud to children.” The journey to reading begins at birth when parents speak their first adoring words to their baby, not when they pull out the first flash card!

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