Your little one’s physical development is linked to their ability to acquire essential reading skills, says Diana Noonan.
What fun it is to watch the progress of your child’s physical development. One moment they are a baby unable to support their own head, and the next they are rolling over, crawling, walking, and running. And those are only the physical developments you can see! Inside the brain, much more is going on as this vital organ develops. What you may not realise is that your child’s physical developments are intrinsically linked to their ability to acquire essential reading skills, and that the more you are aware of these changes and the ages at which these physical milestones occur, the more you can help them acquire the fundamentals of literacy. Being aware of approximately when physical developments occur, and their connection to reading acquisition, can also help you pinpoint when and why your child may experience difficulty with reading.
Although it doesn’t pay to await every physical development in your child so you can apply it to reading (that would leave little room to simply enjoy your little one), the following developments may help you focus on the kinds of books to offer your child, and when.
Yes, please… no thanks!
From the age four to ve months, your baby is able to show you, with gestures or by turning away, that they are pleased or not interested in an activity or object. So take note of the books your baby responds to with pleasure and which they seem not to care so much about. Ask yourself what it is that seems to delight them – is it bright colours, large objects on the page, complex illustrations that exhibit detail, patterns, or black and white images? Use this as a guide when you choose your child’s next books from the library.
Let them choose
At the nine to 12 months age, your little one has the muscle and coordination to hold out objects. This means they can show you what they are interested in by choosing an object and presenting it to you. It might be a toy but it can also be a book. By leaving books within easy reach (scattered on the floor, for instance) you are helping your little one make their own choice of reading material. Be ready to respond when they present you with whatever it is they want to read, by taking them on your lap and looking at the book together.
Making friends with books
Babies have an inbuilt ability to react to the unfamiliar with caution. When a toddler of around one year of age encounters something or someone unfamiliar, they immediately look to their primary caregiver to checkout if it is a safe or dangerous object. What better time to teach your little one that books are as cuddly as a soft toy. Having books around the home and handling them often in the presence of your child (especially as they sit on your lap while you read to them) are ways of saying, “Books are good, fun, safe, and friendly.”
When your child is around 12 to 14 months, they have the physical ability to point, usually in the context of showing you what it is they want. Take advantage of this new skill by teaching your child to point to objects on the pages of a picture book. In a picture book about wild animals, for instance, instruct “Point to the elephant!” and model this. Do the same with other images, and soon your little one will be pointing without coaxing. Once they have accomplished this, encourage them to point to the image as you say the corresponding word. In this way, you are teaching them that words and images go together to make up a story.
Also from around the age of 12-14 months, a child has developed the new motor skills that will allow them to turn pages. Now is the time to set them loose on books that can handle a bit of “loving”. Books with card or board (rather than paper) pages can be a good start, as are books that aren’t too precious to your family, so that if they are ripped or torn, no one is too concerned.
More of the same
From the age of one to two, children are able to remember familiar objects. This signals the time to choose books for your child which have a familiar image on each page, or to gather together books in a series (such as Spot the Dog) which contain the same characters in different contexts.
Left to right
Children learn to track (follow a moving object with their eyes) from a very early age. Help your child learn the skills of tracking print from left to right by holding your finger on the words of a storybook and moving it along as you read. Let them hold onto your finger as you do this so they absorb the movement physically as well as visually. If they want to move their finger along the lines of print themselves, let them, but gently offer guidance guide to encourage the left-to-right direction.
Diana Noonan is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers for children. A former editor of the iconic School Journal, she writes for a wide range of educational resources, and takes a strong interest in the NZ curriculum.