Reading and language are crucial to a child’s development. My own mother read to me every night as a kid, and it fostered a life-long love of books and learning.
Studies show that reading aloud to children, even infants, more than just talking to them increases their vocabulary, IQ, and educational skills when it is time to start school. A child’s vocabulary at age 3 is the single greatest predictor of their ability to read in 3rd grade. These educational benefits eventually translate to improved health outcomes later in life. One study demonstrated children from lower-income families wind up hearing over 30 million words less than those from higher-income families by the age they start kindergarten. The language that they hear has to be directed at them to make an impact, so language heard on tablets or television shows does not contribute as much to language development.
So how can you prepare your child for school and learning at an early age? You can start reading with your child at a young age, even as early as three months old. Make bedtime reading a nightly routine. Parents should choose a quiet place without distractions, such as TV in the background. Engage your child’s interest by allowing them to set the pace and turn the pages. This will also help with fine motor skills. Texturized books with sounds are helpful for infants and toddlers. Use the illustrations to build the story and ask your child what they see. Encourage your child to say the words and phrases with you, and don’t be afraid to embrace your silly side and act out the characters! As children become older, asking them comprehension questions such as “What do you think might happen next?” can help further engage them.
Books can help with tackling difficult topics such as going to the doctor, handling chronic illness, and even the death of loved ones. They can also expose your child to diversity and help them explore the world around them, cultivating a sense of curiosity than can last a lifetime.
Dr. Grace Spears is a general pediatrician licensed by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. In August 2022 Dothan Pediatric Healthcare Network welcomed Dr. Spears as a pediatrician at Enterprise Pediatric Clinic.