R.E.A.D. to Develop Writers’ Brains

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Many parents read aloud to their baby and toddler, but few take the next step to encourage early writing. From birth to age 6 is when your baby’s brain has the greatest ability to establish language proficiency. Did you know that babies are able to draw pictures (pre-writing) and create narratives between 2 and 3 years of age? A young child who is stimulated with targeted activities early and often can be writing and illustrating complex stories by age 4 or 5.

Studies show that when reading and writing is taught to children starting at birth, their neural pathways develop in different ways. They are more intelligent, have a 32-million-word advantage by kindergarten over children who did not get this exposure, and are less likely to develop learning problems such as dyslexia.

Following are a few fun and simple activities, summed up in four easy-to-remember words and the acronym R.E.A.D. – Repetition, Enthusiasm, Attention and Drawing, that parents can do with babies, toddlers and preschoolers to help them develop writers’ brains.

Repetition. Repeated readings of favorite books are a hallmark of early reading and writing success. Long after you are exhausted reading favorite books, your baby or toddler will thrill in reading them over and over again. Babies love repetition, which encourages him to mimic the words and babble sounds, which are early-language responses. Over time, this mimicking behavior turns into higher-order concepts and understandings, and eventually memory reading. Babies also mimic feelings during book sharing. If you read with feeling, it encourages your baby to have positive associations with reading.

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-stimulation activities in parenting by activating social, hearing, 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. By switching off between 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. Your child might be ready to scribble on paper long before you think she’s able. Early scribbling is the precursor to early writing. With early marking and scribbling, she is showing an internal desire to communicate, joy in expressing ideas, and the urge to make meaning. Experts agree that drawing almost always opens the gate to early literacy.

Excerpted from the book “Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write – from Baby to Age 7,” by Richard Gentry, a nationally acclaimed expert on childhood literacy, reading and spelling development, who has more than 30 years of experience working with beginning readers.