Human Behavior: The Brain-based Formula for Teaching Your Child to READ and Write--Baby to Age 7

Be like Atticus Finch and teach your child to read.

Posted Jul 29, 2010

Reading with your child

READ with your child

Want to know how to teach reading to your baby or toddler? The secret is revealed in the acronym READ-Repetition-Enthusiasm-Attention-Drawing. It works for any parent, grandparent, or preschool caregiver. And it's supported by history, science, and literature.

Let's start with the formula: READ-Repetition-Enthusiasm-Attention-Drawing. Here's what you do:

Repetition-Joyfully repeat the reading of favorite books with your child in your lap. Begin in babyhood and do this on a regular basis-preferably every night. Long after you are exhausted rereading favorite books, your baby or toddler will thrill in reading them over and over. Hang in there. Her brain LOVES repetition, and she loves the bonding that's happening in this read aloud session. She loves your voice, and she's taking in data and learning how to speak your language. She loves your touch, your attention, your smell and research shows that you love her more by doing this! (Researchers discovered the phenomenon through "bonding studies.") Amazingly, the familiarity of a favorite book and the repeated firing of neural circuits along with establishment of new synapses and new concepts as she responds to familiar text are growing her mind as a reader. She will start mimicking you from babyhood, and uniquely human mirror neuron cells in her brain will likely take advantage of the fact that humans are hard-wired for imitation. She will imitate you sticking out your tongue in the first week of life, and soon imitate your speech, actions, intentions, and emotions surrounding book reading. She'll learn how to pick up a book, how to hold it, where to start, how to turn the pages, and she'll be entertained by it. She'll soon have her favorite book-and you will get sick of reading it! But stick with the repetition. Repetition strengthens the neural pathways for particular sounds, words, and phrases. Repetition works!

Enthusiasm-Forget about the so-called "reading wars" that lasted a century-the one-hundred years of debate over whether "phonics" (matching letters to sounds) or "whole words and meaning" (sometimes referred to as "whole language") come first for beginning reading. Feelings come first! You've got to work hard to ensure that early literacy activity is joyful and fun. And why wouldn't it be if you choose to share glorious easy books, poems, and nursery rhymes from the start. Who wouldn't be enthusiastic and have fun reading Good Night Moon to a three-month-old baby. And remarkably, the baby will love it too! She's not quite understanding it yet but you are making her feel good by holding her and she recognizes the love in your voice, your smell, and your gentle touch, the special attention you are giving her, and if you are enthusiastic about doing this reading stuff-she is going to be enthusiastic about doing it too!

Attention-When you read or write with your baby or toddler you are constantly making decisions about how to direct his attention. After all, the terrible two's is all about the fact that your baby has more brain cells than you do and is so smart that he's getting too much stimulation and perhaps has some difficulty processing and managing all that incoming information and finding it hard to focus. When reading aloud, parents constantly switch off between attention to sounds, attention to meaning, attention to the rhythm or musicality of language, attention to expression, attention to feelings, attention to letter naming, and attention to letter formation to name just a few. It's easier than you think. Just ask yourself, "What is he thinking?" "Did I choose a book that's right for him? One that is simple, clear, and happy?" "How can I respond in a way that is warm, nurturing, stimulating and supportive?" Don't worry about when to start phonics lessons. When he's a three-year-old writer and needs to know phonics he will ask you about letters and sounds!

Drawing (and pretend writing)-Early readers are most often pencil and paper kids who scribble, draw, and learn to write-before they learn to read! Babies and toddlers communicate with paper and pen by constructing narratives from memory representing them both symbolically and two dimensionally-and they talk about their drawing and writing. They experience joy and satisfy an urge to make meaning. (Remember, feelings come first. This drawing and pretend writing is an expression of thoughts and feelings!) Everyone knows that you are suppose to read aloud to your kid-the surprise is that many kids who read before kindergarten learn to read by writing!

So what's the history, science, and literature that supports READ?

Raising Confident Readers

Raising Confident Readers, Richard Gentry

History: You probably already know about the success of Montessori schools for teaching beginning literacy. Over one hundred years ago Maria Montessori put it this way: "Contrary to the usual accepted idea, writing precedes reading." She pointed out that very young children can easily put the skills of reading together after "an explosion of writing."

Raising Confident Readers

Raising Confident Readers, Richard Gentry

Science: In the classic study of children who read early, researcher Delores Durkin reported that virtually all of the 206 early readers that she studied learned to print before they learned to read and that their parents answered lots of questions about sounds and spelling during their "interest binges" in early writing.

Literature: Have you reread To Kill a Mockingbird on its fiftieth anniversary this summer? Author Harper Lee knew how to teach early readers. Her six-year-old character Scout enters first grade and horrifies the new first grade teacher when Scout stands in front of the class and reads the stock options from the Mobile Register on the first day of school! She can even read hymns! Read To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee shows you exactly how Scout's father, Atticus Finch, and her nanny taught early reading and writing by following my acronym READ! That's the thing about reading great literature-it reveals deep truths-sometimes better than history or science!

You can learn more about how to teach your child to read and write in my new book, Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write-Baby to Age 7, just released by Da Capo Press.