Omg, my baby can read! No, not picking up a random book and deciphering the words or storyline, but reading the way a baby can read.
In this post, I am so excited to share one of my biggest passions when teaching young children (aside from music and movement): reading!
Where does reading begin? How do you learn to read?
Without starting a huge internet debate, I’ll answer this question with the most trusted, researched-based answer: reading begins in the womb.
From the time we are the smallest form of life, babies develop their senses, such as hearing, and begin learning the sounds of life surrounding them. They can hear their mother’s voice growing clearer by the week. Listening to their mother’s voice, they learn her speech’s tone, inflection, style, volume, pitch, and rhythm. The family and friends she interacts with also teach the baby distinct sounds.
This stage is critical to developing early literacy skills because of the speech patterns developing in babies’ brains before birth. Their brains are becoming wired to hear the flow of a sentence in their parent’s native language. All of this overheard communication lays the foundation for the baby’s future verbal communication, which will later turn into written communication.
When should I read to a baby?
Now! Right now! Read this post aloud whether the baby is in the tummy or right in front of you! It’s never too early to start reading to a child.
Young children learn to love reading by being read to! It really doesn’t matter what you read in the earliest days of life: the directions for assembling the crib that you haven’t gotten to yet (hehe), a blog article by a favorite humorous author (hehe), or whatever question you are Googling to in the middle of the night. Just hearing your voice and learning the sounds of language is amazing!
As they get a little older, you’ll start to notice they are grabbing everything! That may be a great sign to start reading things they can hold without worrying about the item’s condition, such as board books or textured books. Read various books, from silly rhyming like Dr. Seuss, non-fiction like “Things That Go,” to any fictional story with pictures.
The more visual the book is, the more you may notice your little one staring at the pages of color. This lap time of looking at books and listening to your voice reading is another huge foundational piece for learning to read!
What does reading look like for very young children?
For very young infants, this looks like eating. Everything they want to read they will also put in their mouth. (Highly suggest board books/cloth books for this age; while they may be more expensive upfront, they will last for many chews!)
They may start to turn pages of a book while sitting on your lap or in a bouncy seat. They will probably grab the book you are reading out of your hands. That is great! The best way to learn about something is to explore it (and eat it!)
Older infants and younger toddlers will start to carry books around the house, hand you their favorites to read over and over again, and begin turning pages of the book to look at the pictures. If you listen closely, you may hear them babbling as they turn the pages. THIS IS READING!!! This is the very basic concept of reading print! I turn the page and say some words and turn the page and say some words, etc.
Heading into the 2-3-year-old year, children will start pointing out familiar images they know. “Cat” while pointing to a picture of a cat. They may begin repeating phrases they remember from the book; “I think I can, I think I can…” All of these are different ways to read at this developmental level!
Their reading will come to life as they head into the 3-4-year-old year. Literally. Acting out pages of the book as they flip through it. They are so excited to see their favorite storylines and characters that they want to show the actions happening. Imagine them blowing the house down in The Three Little Pigs.
They may also start remembering more lines from the story and repeating them on the corresponding pages. While they may not be reading in the sense that they know the letters “P-I-G” put together reads “pig,” they know that the text on that page is always read the same way when they see that particular picture. That’s reading!
What if another family member or I can’t read?
Reading does not only mean printed words. Much of the foundational piece mentioned above is your child listening to oral language. While your young child is listening to what you say, they don’t have a clue what the printed words on the paper actually say.
Just tell the story that you see in the pictures. This is a great way to include family members or friends who may not want to engage with books with your child. Breaking the barrier of having to read the specific printed text by having them just tell the story they see is perfect!
What’s Environmental Print? Is that reading or memorizing?
Environmental Print is where I start to geek out as a teacher-mommy! This simply means reading things that are common around you in life. For instance, many kids can recognize the following symbols:
Whether or not you use the locations listed above, kids start realizing that symbol means something!
This is memorizing in some ways, but that’s not bad! For very young children, we want to encourage reading which means building positive associations when they see things they know. For instance, they may not know the “s” in STOP makes the “sssss” sound or that the “o” in this word is the short vowel sound, but they know that sign says stop!
Side story: a 16-month-old I taught once pointed to the Starbucks logo and said, “Mommy’s coffee!” I count that as reading!
I found a great article to share ideas on how to incorporate environmental print in your home (just substitute any words that say “classroom” and say “home”!) There are lots of ways you can easily find new words and symbols your little one can read!
What can you do to encourage a lifelong love of reading?
Start now! Get your little ones excited to sit together, snuggle up, and read. Reading before bed is a great time to consistently build reading into your day and a great way to calm down before drifting off to sleep peacefully (ideally….)
Read the words on your shirt, read the grocery list, identify every STOP sign on your daily commute, and have tons of books available! Libraries are your free best friend.
Starting early to lay the foundation for a lifelong love of books and reading will help kids move into the formal stages of reading. Some kids find this stage frustrating for many reasons and start losing interest in books. Keep reading to them, even as they get older. Find new genres that may keep their interest longer, like comic books. Encourage them to work through the frustrating parts of formally learning to read so they can continue loving reading forever!