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Teaching Toddlers to Read

written by: Sonal Panse • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/5/2012

Reading is an important skill; the earlier it is mastered, the better. Teaching toddlers to read can assist in the development of neural synapses in the brain and these in turn will foster higher intellectual abilities in your child. Learning to read also increases ones self-confidence.

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    To be precisely correct, toddlers can be taught to read only to an extent. They can be taught to recognize the alphabet and recognize whole words, but reading with comprehension and fluency the way older children read is not to be expected. Before the age of five or six, brain neural connections are not sufficiently well-developed for the brain to be able to comprehend word formations, word meanings and sentence structures. There are some child prodigy exceptions to this, but, in general, don't expect your toddler to read the unabridged Bambi to you and don't even think of starting him or her on Shakespeare yet.

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    The Benefits

    Reading is an important learning skill that hugely impacts a person's education and life. Knowing how to read can instill a higher sense of self-esteem in children, especially when they start school, and help them succeed in academics as well as in their subsequent careers. It will also foster a life-long love of books and learning.

    A study carried out by pediatricians from Yale University, Dr. Sally Shaywitz and Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, together with psychologist G. Reid Lyon and other researchers, showed that people who could not read well had "improperly connected" neural circuitry. Teaching children to read early on, when their brains were still developing, is likely to help connection neural pathways. Better connected brain synapses signify better brain development and that means higher intellectual abilities.

    Teaching children to read early on may also, according to a US National Panel of Reading Specialists and Early Childhood Educators, decrease reading difficulties that regularly arise with so many school children.

    According to D. Durkin in the book, Children Who Read Early: Two Longitudinal Studies (1966, New York: Teachers College Press), children who learn to read early, read better and more than children taught to read later. In what is known as the Matthew's Effect, early readers consistently stay ahead of late readers in learning abilities.

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    Teaching Approach

    It's best to take an indirect teaching approach when introducing toddlers to reading. Keep the teaching activities fun and short, and never pressure your toddler to learn. If he or she is not in the mood or is bored, then stop and do something else.

    To start with, familiarize your toddler with the alphabet. Take a look at the article A is for Alphabet - Techniques For Teaching Toddlers Alphabet here on Bright Hub.

    Keep attractive illustrated books, particularly board picture books and alphabet books, lying around and encourage your toddler to look through them and point and "name" the pictures.

    Read often, so your child learns that reading is an activity you enjoy, which may make him or her more interested in modeling your behavior.

    Read regularly to your toddler. Reading stories and poems your toddler enjoys can create an interest in books.

    If your child wants to read the same book again and again, then keep reading it! This is a form of memorization; the first stages of reading.

    Read slowly and clearly, but with the dramatic flair and rhythm that a particular story or poem requires.

    Hold the book so the toddler can see the words and pictures on the page. Follow the words you are reading with your finger so the toddler can make an association between the sound of the word and its written form.

    Print your toddler's name on his or her books. This will help the toddler to recognize the way his or her name is written.

    Display colorful posters with cartoon characters or animals that will catch your toddler's attention. While reading descriptions, point to the animals and characters on the poster or in books.

    Help your toddler to recognize words by making reading a part of your everyday activities. When you go shopping, for instance, help your toddler identify and read road signs, store front signs, entry and exit signs, shopping aisle signs, and the lettering on boxes and packages. If you go to a restaurant, help your toddler read the word 'Menu', some of the words on the menu and the words on the restroom door. Being able to read environmental print will increase your toddler's burgeoning interest in the world around him or her.

    Purchase board games and interactive CD-Roms and videos that will further help your child to read.

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