Helping A Child Learn to Read — 12 to 24 Months

What skills can you teach your child when he is only 12 months old which will impact his reading and writing skills? There are actually a number of connections the child’s brain will complete in this year which are important to his acquisition of language skills. Remember that each human brain is uniquely made. Of course there are the genetically driven factors but the actual wiring of the brain is affected by the environment and challenges the mind faces. You can help your child’s brain develop the wiring needed for good reading and writing skills. Here’s how.

1. Encourage your child to use his hands. Your baby will start gaining motor control during this period as the nerves connecting the brain to various muscles are sheathed. Give your child time to explore the use of his hands. When your child reaches about 15 months of age, try providing the child the opportunity to explore smaller objects. Make sure you supervise this activity as you do not want them to swallow the objects. The point of the exercise is to develop fine motor control as preparation for learning to write. Other activities which will help in this regard include holding crayons, sticks, and markers. Allow scribbling and coloring time; just don’t expect the coloring to be within the lines. It takes plenty of practice for fine motor control to be mastered.

2. Talk to your child. Your child’s first words will probably appear during this time period. Your child will be able to understand many more words than she will be able to say. Studies show your child still needs infant-directed talk to learn new words. A child this young does not learn new words by overhearing adults talk to one another. So make sure you spend time each day talking with (not at) your child. Respond to your child’s interests and chat about their chosen topic. Daily walks with the child walking, not riding in a stroller, are one way to explore the world by practicing both the motor and language skills which are developing at this time. Talk with your child about the things the child shows interest in –“Oh, isn’t that a pretty yellow butterfly! Look, it is landing on the red flower.” Use complete sentences and add descriptive words mentioning the size, color, or texture of the item.

3. Read to your child at least twice a day. These will probably be short periods of time. That is OK. Have a low shelf your child can reach where you keep the child’s books. Make it part of your nightly ritual for getting ready for bed. After the child’s bath is done, invite your child to pick a book from the shelf. “What shall we read as a nite-nite story? Wonderful, let’s read “The Cat in the Hat”!” Then while your child lies on her bed, read the story, then tuck her in and kiss her good-night. Ritual and order is very important to a child at this age. It helps the child orient herself and will also help develop another literacy skill - story-telling skills.

4. Develop Print Awareness. When you read to your child use your finger to point to the words as you read. In this way you will help your child develop what is called Print Awareness. Print Awareness includes knowing that English flows from the top to the bottom of a page and from left to right on each line. It also includes understanding that what is printed on the page is being read by someone who knows how to read – that there is meaning to the symbols on the page. Point out words on cereal boxes, grocery store labels, store signs, and street signs to further your child’s understanding of Print Awareness.

5. Talk about your everyday life. Children at this age do not understand the abstract concept of time. They do appreciate order but have to be shown what order is. Routine is very important to a child because it allows him to have a way of anticipating what is going to happen next. Things are much less scary and they make more sense, if you know what to expect. So in your conversations with your child, make sure you talk about your routine. “It’s time for breakfast. First, let’s wash our hands. Now we will set the table. Can you carry your bowl to the table? Now let’s get you some juice. What kind of juice would you like this morning – apple juice or orange juice? Breakfast is ready. Let’s call your Daddy to the table.” In conversations at other times of the day, let your child describe to you what happens at breakfast time, bath time, or bed time. These conversations are the beginning of understanding time sequencing and story-telling.

6. Respect concentration. Lastly, let your child explore things that interest him without interruption or even praise. Your child needs to develop concentration. Interrupting a child when they are focused on a particular activity, even to give praise, leads to lack of ability to concentrate. Instead, if your child is happily engaged with putting balls through holes in a box, taking them out of the box, and putting them back through the holes; let him. Minimize your presence. Watch over him, provide another activity when he becomes bored; but when there is interest, let that flourish.

These simple tips will help build the foundation for strong literacy skills. You can have a profound influence on the mastery of English by your child. By following these tips, you will be helping your child develop five of the six early literacy skills which are building blocks to reading and writing. Those skills include vocabulary, print motivation (the desire to read), print awareness, narrative skills, and phonological awareness (the ability to hear the smaller sounds that make up words). The sixth skill, letter knowledge, you’ll start working on in the next 12 months.

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