Monday, January 22, 2007

The Best Window of Opportunity..

...for learning to read is ages 0-5 years!

Did you know that:
  • Tens of 1,000's of new synapse connections are being formed in a baby's brain every second from Birth through 2-1/2years old (this is when language/speech skills are wired in the brain)
  • Babies prefer stimulation over food, even when they're hungry - They want to be stimulated!! (its better if its educational stimulation vs passive forms such TV. It needs to have a meaningful connection that involves the baby as purposeful stimulation)
  • Once a baby learns to read his first 50 words (the hardest ones to learn), they learn additional words much faster usually by only being told once or twice they will remember it.
  • By age 4 this synaptic activity slows down to thousands per second (still good but significantly less)
  • 90% of a child’s language is developed by age 5
  • 90% of a child's brain is formed by age 5
  • 40% of 8-year-olds in the U.S. cannot read independently
  • Only 1 in 8 kids who cannot read at grade level by 1st grade will catch up to grade level in their life
  • The earlier a child reads the better he reads…it’s important to start as early as possible(the more second nature reading will be)
  • Americans are usually at the bottom of industrialized countries in almost every educational study done
There are ways YOU can take advantage of the early Window of Opportunity

When a child learns how to read early, the ability is incorporated into the brain's developed language center. When reading is learned after age 5, it ends up being stored into a different part of the brain, causing learning to read difficulties because then the "reading" part of the brain and the "language" part of the brain are in separate sections. This makes the brain work harder in order translate to from and from the reading to language centers it has created.

Why not then teach reading before age 4?

There are many who object to early reading instruction. They feel that because if its done a structured format as in the school setting: such as make a child sit still for 30 min a day to "learn to read" will get the teacher and the student nowhere.
Our previous article did emphasize that children should learn before age 5. Obviously, we're not advocating teaching reading as done in a structure setting. Certainly a young child would not gain anything from being taught in a manner inconsistent with the age.

Think of fun ways young children learn. Think about how they learn their native language. Babies do not learn language so formally do they? Rather we expose them to language from birth -- they hear it, they babble and we cheer any sounds they make that we recognize. When we cheer and repeat the sound they make, they try again. It typically takes 12 to 18 months for infants to produce recognizable speech. AND they do understand spoken language much earlier than they can perform it through their own ability to speak it.

If words are shown and incorporated into the language development phase of babies development, we would create a nation of "natural" readers rather than develop reading as a "second language" for the brain to translate. It has been done! Watch this amazing video.

This is not to say that anyone learning to read after age 5 can't. Of course that is simply not true. But consider this: we do know that the older one learns how to read the more difficult the process becomes. The more intensive and consistent the process must be for daily reading to practice and develop that ability. Think of it as an adult learning a second language -- it is much easier if they are in an environment where they hear the foreign language and have to use it daily -- vs -- being in an environment where that new language is rarely used but once a day or once a week such as in a traditional language class in high school or college would be.

A child's environment needs to be rich in the written word to help the brain connect the spoken language to the written one. When done early, reading becomes naturally as easy as speaking the language.

A major set-back for many children is, their good parents in an effort to help them start by teaching them the A-B-C's. Unfortunately they do it with all upper case letters (98% of written words are with lower case letters) and using the letter names instead of the sounds they make. The letter 'G' makes two sounds, "C" makes two sounds. Letter 'a' makes 4 sounds depending upon what consonant or vowel is next to it and so forth.

What typically happens to many children in Kindergarten is they end up having to re-learn the abc's sounds correctly before moving on so they can begin to learn how to read the letters using the correct sounds. This is a very common set back for children in school. Then they become labeled as behind and in need of remediation.

Here are ways to work with a baby to help them learn the language of reading more easily.

  • Speak correctly. Do not use baby talk or substitute words. The child may make attempts to speak, and we think their efforts are cute, but when we perpetuate mispronunciations, it makes for more difficulty with reading later. Always, praise and repeat the intended word correctly. They will learn the correct speech patterns better that way.
  • Talk to them from birth. Describe all the senses they are experiencing, what they see, touch, taste, and hear. Colors, textures, temperatures, flavors etc. This also builds an enriching language base for them.
  • Use lower case letters. To teach young children the A B C's be sure to get lower case letters, write word cards in lower case (use variety, hand written, block letters, print in different fonts from the computer, etc) use magnets on the fridge. Magnadoodle or dry erase boards are also wonderful tools.
  • Be sure to model the sounds those letters make. Meaning: avoid using the letter names until well after they understand and can use the letter sounds correctly. i.e. the letter 'g' makes two sounds, g as in good and g as in George. Be aware that vowels make more than just long and short sounds, particularly when paired with other vowels and relative spelling rules. Use or make a chart that illustrates all those sounds/letter combinations. As adults we know these patterns without thinking. Having a chart to refer to helps immensely.
  • Reading to the child several times a day. When reading to your child, make sure they can see the words with you and show them by using finger across the page under the words as you read them. Read slowly too. If they know a word, then let them say the word any time it comes up in the reading of the day! Participating in the process is a multi-sensory application that hard wires the brain.
  • Make it fun. Play word games, matching, sing nursery rhymes and recite poems and read along books. If they are tired, move on. No one ever learns well when tired or disinterested. Young children have a short attention span. They fill their day with constant moving activity.
  • Review in small segments several times a day will do more for them than any one long session will never accomplish.

This information is intended to enlighten you and encourage you on ways to begin. We'll post additional information soon. Enjoy this special time with your baby/toddler child!