Caught your eye, with that title, didn’t I?
Well, I’m not talking about money, but something just as valuable—your child’s language bank. From the moment of birth, and at an accelerated rate for the first 6 years, the brain is developing learning capacity. Brain development, or learning, is actually the process of creating, strengthening, and discarding connections among the neurons; these connections are called synapses. Synapses organize the brain by forming pathways that connect the parts of the brain governing everything we do—from breathing and sleeping to thinking and feeling (Ackerman, 2007). This is the essence of postnatal brain development, because at birth, very few synapses have been formed.
Research shows that as parents interact with their child by reading to them, the child’s brain cells are literally activated, strengthening existing brain cells and creating new ones. Reading with your child greatly enhances their vocabulary, so much so that the average children’s book adds more to the child’s vocabulary than prime-time television (Hays and Ahrens, 1998).
From birth, you can aid in your child’s language development through reading. By four months of age, babies begin to find interest in books. They begin to explore books by chewing on them and throwing them. At the time they are 12 months they have started to become interested in the story you are reading, and they can even turn pages with you. Around the age of 18 months, they can be interactive with you as you read the book; you can ask them to ‘pet the dog’, ‘smell the flower’, or pretend to eat a carrot. As the child gets older, there is evidence to support that reading to children will help the child’s later reading achievements (National Research Council, 1998).
When you create a routine reading time with your child you provide them with that which is vital for a well-nourished educational foundation. Aside from enhancing language abilities and increasing their vocabulary, reading to your child opens the door to other benefits that add to their development. When you sit and read with your child you are building onto the bonding and emotional connections with them, paving the way for open communication with your child.
What about discipline? Do you find that they wiggle, want to get up, or maybe turn the page before you’re finished? This gives you the opportunity to teach self-discipline by sitting quietly until the story is finished, it will also enhance a longer attention span and memory retention. The stories that you read to them will help to activate their thinking skills, enhancing their ability to use logic in different situations and make good decisions. In life we are constantly being presented with opportunities to do new things. This often causes a little anxiety and anticipation. As parents we can use books to show our child that these feelings are completely normal, and prepare them for what they are about to experience, such as going to the doctor or dentist, riding a bus, going to the zoo, potty training and so much more.
Along with reading to our child, there are other things we can do to enhance language development:
- Wait a few seconds before replying to what they say.
- Look at their face.
- Show you are listening.
- Talk to them about what they are doing.
- Use new words.
- Repeat new words often.
- Avoid interrupting.
- Avoid changing topics quickly.
(Mary E. Dahlgren, Ed. D.)
As your child gets older, they will be able to use the tools you have given them for success. They will be able to cash in, so to say, on your investment. So visit the library, a book store, or even look for book apps on your tablet, and have fun making language and vocabulary deposits into your child’s future. Whether a child is a newborn or school age it is never too late to start reading to your child.