I know from the title you can tell how excited I am that my baby can read! No, not picking up a random book and deciphering the words, but really starting to read on his current developmental level.
Where does reading begin? When should I read to a baby? What does this look like for very young children? What can you do to encourage a lifelong love of reading? In this post, I am so excited to share one of my biggest passions while 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 on the answer to this question, I’ll tell you the most trusted researched-based answer: reading begins in the womb. From the time we are the smallest forms of life developing our senses such as hearing, babies are starting to learn how to read by learning the sounds of life. They can hear their mother’s voice growing more clear each week of pregnancy as they learn her tone, inflections, style, volume, pitch, and the rhythm of her speech. The family and friends who talk with her often close to growing belly also teach the baby other distinct sounds.
One of the reasons that this stage is so important to developing early literacy skills is because of speech patterns babies are developing even before birth. Their brains are becoming wired to hear the flow of a sentence in their parent’s native language. This is laying the foundation for future communication that 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 in front of you! It’s never too early too 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 (hehehe), 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 with worrying about the condition of the item, such as board books or textured books. Read a variety of 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 this 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 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 and begin turning pages of the book to look at the pictures. If you listening 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 to point out common images that they know. “Cat” while pointing to a picture of a cat. They may start 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!
As they head into the 3-4-year-old year, their reading will start to come to life. Literally. Like 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 I or another family member can’t read?
Reading does not only mean printed words. A huge part of the foundational piece mentioned above is your child listening to oral language. Your young child is listening to what you say, they don’t have a clue what the printed words 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 with 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 commonly around you in life. For instance, many kids can recognize the following symbols:
Whether or not you eat the foods listed above, kids start realizing that symbol means something!
In some ways, this is memorizing, but that’s not a bad thing! 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”!) These 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 not only a great time to consistently build reading into your day, but also 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!
Starting early to lay the foundation for a lifelong love of books and reading will really help when kids are moving into the formal stages of reading. Many kids find this stage frustrating for so many different reasons and start to lose 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!
Here are some of my favorite memories of my little guy learning to read the past two years!
Checking out pictures in a book (1.5 years)
Telling Mommy what I see in the book! (1.5 years)
Surrounding him with books, both in baskets at home and in the Library of Congress! (9 months and 2 years).
Reading to the cat, about cats, and with the cat. Love that he has a reading buddy! (all approx. 1 year)