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A Child’s Development
A child’s physical, mental and social abilities develop rapidly from the time they are born to the time they are ready for school. Their sensory capacities are keen and they use these to listen and see everything in the environment. This is why hearing the voices and having physical contact with their parents are vital in their learning process, since the stimuli parents provide serves as the first seeds of language development.
Before a child can actually read they learn about language from hearing their parents talk, imitating sounds and relating what they see with words that are spoken to them. Therefore, encouraging a child to read starts from infancy, when they begin to associate audible words with objects and pictures, and continues to the time they can recognize letters and relate short words with ideas.
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Learning to Read
First encourage the child to listen to your voice, see your facial expressions, gestures and objects that may help them relate what they see with what they hear. Parents may not be aware, but every chance they get to talk directly to their baby while cuddling them or just pointing out an object in the grocery while associating it with a word is actually the first step in their child’s language development.
Choose a quiet moment when they are not hungry or uncomfortable to lie down next to them or sit them on your lap and read aloud. It does not really matter what material is being read at first, but children become more engaged when a book with pictures and large letters are used so they can relate and become familiar to them. Pointing out pictures, articulating and vocalizing also help them get more interested in the activity.
As soon as children can imitate sounds encourage them to pronounce words properly and associate them with written or printed letters and words. Sight reading is the first step to actual reading. Do these activities on a regular basis when their interest is up, spending longer periods as they grow bigger.
For older children, encourage them to appreciate books by teaching them about how a book works, starting with the parts of the book – the front cover, the title, the pages and the back cover. Teach them about turning pages carefully and how to read from front to back, and from left to right.
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Tools for Learning
Choose books that babies and kids can hold, like board books with sturdy cardboard covers and thick pages, cloth books that are soft and washable, touch-and-feel books, or books with flaps that can be lifted. Children should have fun with their books, although there will be times when they will chew on the corners or even tear pages. Patiently correct these without getting upset.
Books are not the only tools to learn how to read. Other audio-visual learning materials like videos are also helpful in making reading and learning fun. To help kids learn to distinguish letters and numbers, identify pictures and short words, flashcards may also be used.
Kids like music, so singing children’s songs, hearing and saying rhymes while reading, along with repeating words and phrases and associating them with gestures and pictures also help in learning about words.
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More Ways to Encourage Learning
Aside from seeing and hearing, talking and singing, children love to draw and scribble. Around two years of age, teach them how to hold a crayon or pencil, draw shapes, letters and numbers and differentiate colors. This will expand their learning the language and remembering words and ideas. Drawing and writing also helps them express more of their feelings and talents in another way.
It is important to remember that learning should be fun--fun, and that it usually comes naturally. Therefore timing is important; one cannot force a child to accomplish tasks which they may not be ready for at a certain age. Furthermore, not all children have the same rate of learning, so siblings or playmates may not show similar abilities at a particular age.
An important point about helping a child to learn how to read is to relax and have fun, being always positive. Do not be frustrated when the child loses interest or becomes distracted; he may be hungry or sleepy, or rather just play with you.
Remember to praise him for his attempts to learn and gently correct mistakes without showing disappointment or frustration.
Finally, show him that learning is a process that does not stop at any age and that it does not just happen in school. You can do this by showing good examples, like reading books and magazines yourself, avoiding too much time watching television, spending time to talk about events in school and at home, and doing activities that can make learning a part of daily life.
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Child Development Institute, Normal Stages of Human Development (Birth to Age 5)
Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone, photo