The earliest positive pathway to literacy is conversation. Thoughtful, undistracted conversations any time in early childhood increase cognitive development and literacy, and build trust. The best time to begin is in infancy.
Obstacles to meaningful conversation are busy schedules and cell phones. But mainly cell phones.
As much as possible, turn off the phone and pay attention to your child. Make eye contact. Engage. The only times I see adults off their phones during parent-child walks, to name just one together-time activity, is when two adults are on the walk — and they are only talking to each other.
Talk with baby, not “baby talk”
Real words pronounced correctly, real sentences, normal tone of voice.
I love grocery store conversations! Time your trip when your child isn’t tired, orient the child in the grocery cart so you have eye contact with each other, layer off any clothing or covers that will make your child too warm, keep a drink handy for hydration and comfort, and set off on a lovely trip through the store.
Photo from Taste of Home‘s article on grocery shopping with a baby.
This is one time that multi-tasking really works. All you have to do is establish the give-and-take of making sounds with your child. S/he makes a sound, you quietly repeat it. Back and forth. You can initiate these “conversations” by making small noises of your own ~ a tongue tsk tsk tsk for example ~ to capture your child’s attention (more about that another time), then smile and carry on, answering anything your child says with your own quiet sound.
This also works well on walks if your stroller can be pushed with your infant facing you. Keep up these “conversations” of sounds and nonverbal communication.
Time on the changing table is perfect for conversation. And so is story time. Take time reading to your baby and allow for communication.
Use these times to introduce vocabulary, too. At the store, name what you’re putting into the cart and show it to your child (apple, orange, etc.); in the stroller, use real words for bottle, stuffed animals, etc.; during floor time and bath time, touch and name body parts and toys; name verbs (clap, tap, etc.), and so on. Easy! Add a little sign language to your words for common expressions/needs with the help of a basic YouTube video to get started.
Even without any actual words, conversation teaches cause-and-effect, establishes relationship bonds, develops patience for human interaction and the concept of taking turns, helps your child begin to read and understand affect in your expressions, and subliminally lets your child experience choice and control.
There’s certainly no shortage of coverage on the need for special attention to literacy, especially regarding boys’ teaching-and-learning needs. Just this week, NPR’s “On Point” spoke to the gender gap in grade level performance, GPA, college admission, and more, mainly because public education is failing to recognize and respond to how our little boys learn. So, when is the best time to have thoughtful, undistracted conversations with young children? Right now.
#EarlyChildhoodLiteracy, #ReadWithYourChild, #BabyTalk