Introducing reading to your baby or toddler is a fun and challenging endeavor. When it was time to introduce my son to reading, I started before he was 6 months old to help him get in the habit of touching, seeing, feeling, and hearing the words from a book. You might hear from your pediatrician to begin introducing books to your child early on. You can learn more about different stages of reading from this article here.
You might be feeling unsure of when to implement time for reading. One way is to think about times when your child is being involved with routines: Eating food, potty time, bottle time, rest time, or walking time. You might use routines to teach your baby to read. Here are different ways to establish toddler routines.
When it is time to eat food, consider having a book near the table or countertop. Ask questions about the images. Read the story and mimic expressions. If you do not have time to grab a book, then consider reading food box labels and explaining the ingredients, spelling the words, and even discussing the interesting colors and shapes on the box.
Potty training is a time where your child decides when he or she is ready. One way to encourage more time on the potty is by having books nearby. You cannot determine the length of their time, but having a book in that routine can be a consistent pattern your child expects. If it is easier, consider reading flashcards. They are quick, smaller, and could be another way to hold their attention.
Bottle feeding can be a precious time to tell stories or read a book. During bottle time, your child is more likely still and laying back. This is a perfect time to read a book and you might discover if you are consistent that your child will want a book reading during bottle time.
If you take your child on walks, bus rides, or even car rides, you can use that time to describe what you see outside. You can start by naming things, describing them, giving examples of them, and then possibly sharing a story about what you see. Walking or mobile times can be used to expand your child’s vocabulary and learn the language about their environment.
Wake up/Nap Time
Laughter at 7 AM might be beaming through your door. Where your toddler breaks your moment of sleep. We know that bedtime stories are great ways to relax your child for sleeping. Consider other sleep times where you can read when she first wakes up. You can read before placing her down for her nap.
Reading during routines can give you and your child different opportunities to read. Additional information on Introducing Early Reading .
Introducing literacy skills and reading at an early age can provide the abilities to help your child grasp the language and skills to succeed as they grow. It is never too early to start, and you can provide a wonderful environment at your home. Parents can be the initial teachers to open the world for your child. Starting early does not only include reading a book but includes conversations, music, observations, and viewing images. These moments build literacy. Literacy is further explained here.
Ways to Teaching Early Reading
Conversations-At the ages of 1, 2, 3, and 4 your child is experimenting with words and is speaking different phrases and sentences. With your 2-year-old, you might hear fewer words. Your 3-year-old might be forming clear and even silly sentences. Then by the age of 4-years old an expansion of vocabulary weaved into those sentences should be apparent. When you can, take advantage of any age to build their vocabulary through these fruitful conversations. If you hear singular words such as “truck,” “dog,” or “ball,” then describe what your child says, ask questions about it, or point to examples. When your child becomes older, continue the conversations and add new vocabulary words naturally to help them understand the conversation.
Repetition– It is important to repeat the words that your children say because it provides more practice opportunities and memory building. When repeating, be intentional on words that might be useful. Be mindful of the language. When repeating, you can use different tones, emotions, and even objects to demonstrate how these words are different depending on the context. You can find more examples here.
Read Daily-Take the time to read 2-4 books each day. Reading aloud each day gives the introduction to vocabulary words, sentence structure, word sounds, and the usage of language itself. Find ways to point out words and ask questions. Also, when selecting books, select nonfiction, poetry, and fiction text so your child can see the different word patterns. Reading aloud is a fun activity that encourages voice changes, expression, and fluency.
Flashcards-Flashcards can be used for reading, viewing, listening, and speaking. Flashcards for young readers should have images so you can discuss the story, match similar images or words, identify colors, and see if you can find different categories or relationships with the cards such as animal words, food words, and more. Flashcards are great tools to display information quickly. Sample pack here.
Screen Time-In the 21st century, logging on to YouTube, or giving your child a tablet to watch seems like a simple solution. If you must have your child watch a video, then repeat what you hear and expand on ideas from the video. Think about reinforcing vocabulary and encouraging your child to answer questions the character says. Technology is not the most important measure, but understand that as parents this might be one of your only options.Parenting is a challenge where sometimes placing your child in front of the television means getting more work completed, finishing up a household chore, or needing to take time for yourself. For whatever reason use screen time with the intent to learn by watching high-quality programming that can improve your child’s vocabulary and cognitive abilities. Also, consider the time limit. This article shares the impact technology can have on our children.
Toys-The power of play for your child can have positive outcomes to build language, creativity, discovery, and even fine motor skills. With toys you can describe, categorize, and tell stories with. Play gives children the opportunity to try new things and learn from their mistakes. In this article, “Early learning and play are fundamentally social activities and fuel the development of language and thought. Early learning also combines playful discovery with the development of social-emotional skills. It has been demonstrated that children playing with toys act like scientists and learn by looking and listening to those around them.” When you encourage your child to play, you are providing opportunities for language growth and so much more.
Routines-Decide throughout the day when you want to read a book or practice flashcards. Early language learning is critical. Children enjoy routines and predictability. I encourage you to have bookshelves or containers of books in your home. Books should be accessible when it is time for that time to read. You can establish the routine of reading a book when introducing new routines. For example, eating at the table, potty time, a new nap schedule, relaxing, and even car rides. One effective to motivate your young reader is to get into the habit of reading yourself. When your child sees you read, they might want to model after you.
Be Intentional-Planning ahead might be a lot for working parents. However, reflect weekly on what it is that you want your child to do. This can be as simple as, “Each day we will read 2 books.” “Each day we will learn one new English and Spanish word.” “Each day I will ask what did you learn at school and tell me how you did it.” There are numerous ways to establish your educational intent with your child. Ultimately this pattern for yourself can help you when your child is school age.
Writing/Scribbles-A pencil, crayon, marker, or paintbrush should be comfortable and familiar tools for your child. Once my son was holding a spoon for a few months, I introduce each tool little by little. Once he turned two, he identified and used each tool appropriately for use. I encourage my son to scribble, color, or paint every day so he can develop his fine motor skills and control. One suggestion is to have a notebook just for your child, and let them scribble away.
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Sign language can support oral language development.
American sign language is a visual language where the signer and viewer(s) communicate with their hands, fingers, and facial expression.
Sign Language is a visual language developed from generations of signers before 1817. In 1817, the first Deaf school in America was formed by Laurent Clerc and ThomasGallaudet now called Gallaudet University. Though Gallaudet and Clerc established the first deaf school, sign language was used many years before by indigenous tribes, immigrants, and deaf people. It continues to grow today amongst hearing individuals.Sign Language can be used by Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Hearing individuals. It is a systematic visual language that is learned and shared by others, changes over time, has its own set of rules, has its own set of symbols, and is honored by different communities. 1As a parent, if you are considering teaching your baby or toddler sign language, it is never too late. Research has provided evidence that learning sign language early in infancy has positive effects on a child’s language development. One study showed that when a group of families used sign language, their children attained higher language skills compared to a group of families that did not learn signs. Research is still being done to provide more data and higher conclusions on sign language, but a person who signs in ASL and speaks an oral language is considered bilingual. Other studies have shown that learning sign language keeps words in your mind. Take for example, learning to fingerspell, one has to know the spelling of that word and must know how to use it in a sign.
ASL vs. Spoken English
American Sign Language uses words from the English language. Signs are visually represented as a fingerspelled word or as a sign. In contrast, the ASL rules on word order and even the meaning can differ. For example, in English, one would say: (Do you want to eat?) In ASL you would sign: (YOU EAT NOW DO?) In ASL question words are usually asked at the end of the phrase and the facial expression also changes. Considering teaching sign language to your infants or toddler? There are many benefits. Below are a few key strategies of how sign language can be used easily with your family.
1. Two way
American Sign Language (ASL) can teach your child that communication requires two individuals. Think about the example I shared “YOU EAT NOW DO.” If I did not place the word “DO” at the end or if I used an alternate facial expression, the viewer might assume I am commanding instead of questioning.ASL is very human-centered and requires the viewer to view every sign to gain contextual knowledge. Once a sign is given, ASL requires the other individual to sign back or give a facial expression. Luckily at home, this two-way communication is picked up easily with children. With ASL, your child can copy your sign, they can show you signs if you say or show the word, or answer you back in signs. This two-way visual language is building the foundation that communication requires two people. When your child become a better speaker, this two-way understanding could support this understanding as well.Teaching two-way communication is giving your child foundational literacy skills.
Learning ASL allows you to teach your baby or toddler key nouns and verbs that are commonly used on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, as they grow you can add in more vocabulary words. Eventually, when your child learns the meaning of these words, it reinforces their vocabulary and word usage. For example, if you say the word eat, and you sign the word EAT. That meaning is reinforced visually because your child learns that eating means putting food in their mouth. If you sign DRINK then you are referring that a drink is being poured down your throat. Unfortunately, there will be many words such as Color words that do not give a reference to the actual color sign. However, color signs keep the same structure.If you are attempting to introduce new vocabulary words to your child, I encourage iconic words that are representative of the visual word form. Some easy baby signs are MILK, YES, STOP, JUMP, STAND, MORE, COLD, HAPPY, SCARED, SHIRT, HAIR, SEE, Seasons (SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER). Once you learn these, you can keep learning even more signs. For vocabulary usage, sign language gives a visual reference. These words can be an abstract or iconic symbol when signed. For example, if someone signs TREE, they place their elbow on the fingertips of the other hand and wave their arm like a tree. This iconic sign represents a real tree. Using signs that represent the iconic form of a word is a visual reference. Signing specific words is considered a referent, “The person, place, thing, idea, or event that a symbol is used to represent.” 1
3. Be Consistent
Children need consistency in their lives when learning something new. So when introducing new signs, be consistent on the usage. If new then give yourself the goal of teaching 5 words per month. Consistency will help your child learn how to use the word.
4. Visual intelligence
Sign language requires the signer and viewer to look at one another. The signer uses their hands, mouths, and even face to change the meaning of words. For example, The word NICE and CLEAN are signed with a hand palm down and the other hand palm up. Your palm down hand wipes across the palm up hand. You will wipe from the palm to the fingertips NICEThe main difference between the two is that the signer should “Smile” when signing NICE. When signing CLEAN, the signer can wipe the hand twice or faster. ASL is not a visual language of gestures, it is a visual language of words and sentences. This visual language requires the signer to use their entire body space to share a message with the viewer. ASL signs require vision to understand the meaning, and this can support your child’s visual intelligence.
5. Getting Started
List 10-20 words that you use daily with your child: Example words: MILK, FOOD, WALK, PLAY, NO, YES, STOP, ME, I, HELLO, BYE BYE, BIRD, TREE. Next test and try showing these words by signing. When I first started I tried by telling my son, “Show me “MILK.” It did not work in isolation. What worked for my family is when I said, “Let’s go on a WALK.” Or “EAT” please. Over time, he understood signs & words when I used the sign in our day-to-day activities. Today, my toddler can show me those signs that I emphasized in isolation or conversation. My son and I are not speaking in full ASL sentences, however, I have hope that his vocabulary is building so that he will be a bilingual visual speaker and oral speaker. As you think about your child’s literacy education know that there are thousands of safe ASL communities across the country. If you are hearing, you can be see as an ally and see a part of the world that needs to be heard. There is also a movement where Black Deaf families are reclaiming this language called Black ASL.
1 Baker-Shenk, C., & Cokely, D. (1980). American Sign Language, A Teacher’s Resource Text onGrammar and Culture. Gallaudet University Press.