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The acronym R.E.A.D sums up four easy-to-remember actions for parents to take when teaching babies and toddlers to read: repetition, enthusiasm, attention, and drawing. Adding appropriate soft-ware driven technology to these time-tested behaviors leads to happy early readers.

Repetition. Repeated readings of favorite books are a hallmark of early reading success. Long after you are exhausted reading favorite books, your baby or toddler will thrill in reading them over and over again. According to parents who are successful, a few favorite, short, easy, happy books might have been read two or three hundred times in the first three years of life.

Babies love repetition, which initially encourages them to mimic your voice and babble sounds and mimic words. Other language-learning skills come into play such as new understandings of vocabulary and grammar. Over time, this mimicking behavior turns into higher-order concepts and understandings about the content of the books being read and eventually memory reading.

Most importantly, the repeated readings are a time for interaction with the parent or caregiver, hands-on experience associating printed and spoken language, and physical contact–so important for babies and toddlers. Babies learn to anticipate what's coming next in a story or behind a flap in a lift-the-flap book. If you cuddle and share happy books with feeling, your baby associates positive feelings with reading.

I'm finding that many parents are having success with soft-ware driven word games to complement book reading. In only about five minutes a day, these games with the baby or toddler in the parent's lap in front of the computer are much more thrilling than traditional static word cards adding customization, sound, and animation to repeated exposure of important words in baby's world. My nose, Mom's hair, Dad's foot, and sound, pictures, and animation of other babies introducing the word clap can rock baby's world! Babies love the repetition, anticipation of what's coming next, but most of all they love your attention, the physical contact and bonding. Computer word games are a great activity for the fathers and grandfathers who often say they don't know what to do with 8- to 12-month olds.

Enthusiasm. Many experts agree that talking to your child and having frequent read alouds, surrounded by talk about books during book sharing, are the most important brain-simulating activities in parenting leading to activation of social, hearing, visual, emotional, and linguistic systems all at once.

The other E's in this step are enticement, exploration, engagement, and explosion. By enticing your child with fun reading activities, exploring new books, and engaging her in the process, her vocabulary, knowledge and love of learning will explode.

Attention. When you read or write with your child, you are constantly making decisions about how to direct his attention. Start by having a conversation with your baby about what you are reading and pointing out what's interesting. Later by calling attention to sounds, meaning, rhythm or musicality of language, expression, feelings, letter naming, and letter formation, you focus a child's attention to the many different aspects of language, reading, writing or spelling. The key is to do a variety of targeted reading and writing activities with your child that are appropriate and fun for his phase of development.

Drawing. Since holding a baby-safe crayon is a milestone for 12 months of age, your child might be ready to scribble on paper long before you think she's able. Early scribbling is one precursor to early writing which can lead to reading. Some children write first and learn to read by exploring writing. With early marking and scribbling, she is showing an internal desire to communicate, joy in expressing ideas, and the urge to make meaning. Drawing and pretend writing-both two dimensional and representational-can open the gate to early literacy.

This week I am in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Nashville sharing my ideas and strategies with parents about the importance of early reading. As the new school year begins, it becomes evident how crucial parents are to their child's educational future. Children may be going off to school and spending their day with their school teachers, but the first and most important teacher is the parent.  

(Note: Dr. Richard Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers. Available on Amazon.com. Follow Dr. Gentry on Facebook and on Twitter. Find more information about Dr. Gentry and his work at his website www.jrichardgentry.com.)

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