Child literacy: As easy as A-B-C

Tips by a Paediatrician to instill a love of reading in young children and promote literacy



Do you have any tips on the best ways to instil a love of reading and ensure my child grows up literate?

Learning to read starts from birth. Newborn babies learn how to read signals all around them by listening to voices, watching faces and reading body language. Babies need to hear and use sounds, sound patterns and spoken language. This helps prepare them to eventually learn to read printed words.

Making books, stories and storytelling a part of your baby’s daily routine will help nurture a love of reading. Even very young babies love picture books, and it’s helpful to make storytime a part of his routine, including before naps or at bedtime. You don’t even have to read the story all the way through; just describing some of the pictures is enjoyable for young babies.

Babies respond to rhymes, games and songs almost from birth and they don’t need to understand the words for these moments to be learning experiences, especially when they’re sharing them with mom or dad.

Here are some tips on how you can help provide these opportunities from the moment your baby is born.

  • Talk about what’s going on. Whether you’re changing a diaper, bathing your baby or taking a walk, use words that describe the actions and the things around your baby. You’ll help him develop a vocabulary before he can even talk.
  • Babies babble. It’s how they learn to make sounds with their own voices. Repeat these sounds, and turn them into real words. You’ll help your baby recognize which sounds form language. And he’ll eventually make the connection between the sounds and an object or person, like “dada.”
  • For newborns and very young babies, try rhymes that involve gentle touch, such as patting their feet or giving them a little bounce while you’re talking.
  • Reward your baby’s first attempts at making sounds with smiles and hugs. This early communication is exciting for your baby, and your approval will encourage him to keep trying.
  • Once your baby starts talking, help him find the words for the things around him. By repeating words, you’ll help your child remember them.
  • Ask questions. When you say, “What’s that?” and name the picture in a book, it teaches your baby that things have names.
  • Encourage your baby’s involvement. Babies like to put books in their mouths, so be sure your baby has access to sturdy and clean board books. At first, your baby will need your help to turn the pages. As he gets older, you can let him turn the pages on his own.
  • Sing songs. Music makes the words easier to remember, and is a fun way to make language come alive for you and your baby!
  • Visit the public library. Even babies can get a library card! There are lots of free resources to encourage your baby’s love of reading. Many libraries have free programs for parents and babies or young children that use books, rhymes and songs. Ask a librarian for more ideas.

Dr. Shirley Blaichman is a general paediatrician in the Montreal area and a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Public Education Committee.

For more information on your child's growth and development, get answers from Canada’s paediatric experts www.caringforkids.cps.ca or www.soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca. You can also find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/caringforkids.cps.ca and on Twitter @CaringforKids or @soinsenfants.

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