Reading stories to children is easily one of life's greatest joys, but not all parents realize that reading to their little ones, and helping them learn to read themselves, is one of the most significant things they can do to ensure their child's success in life. In fact, recent studies suggest that the earlier children start reading, the better. Though academic institutions don't officially begin teaching children to read until they are older than 5, new breakthroughs in the study of brain development indicate that the best time to begin reading to little ones is when they are between the ages of 3 months and 3 years.
"All of a child's fundamental language skills are acquired during infancy," says Dr. Robert Titzer, a San Diego, Calif.-based infant learning researcher and creator of "Your Baby Can Read!" – an interactive video series designed to teach babies and toddlers how to read. "It's not that babies can't learn to read, it's just that adults don't expose them to written words very often. Really, babies and toddlers are better at learning language than their older peers."
Dr. Titzer explains that an infant's brain grows rapidly between the time she is born and age 4. It produces billions of cells, and trillions of interconnected synapses. Active reading, especially when accompanied by sounds, pictures, character voices and physical actions, significantly increases the number and type of neural pathways the brain develops.
"If babies are exposed to language frequently before the age of 3, they will not only learn to read, they will become skilled at learning itself," Dr. Titzer says. "They will have ingrained in their neural pathways various combinations of visual, audio and tactile learning styles."
Reading is also an ideal way for parents and children to simply take time out to be together. This interaction, in addition to helping children learn about the world of words, creates important bonding time. A study by the Philadelphia-based Commission on Literacy reported that little ones whose caregivers read to them consistently were more emotionally stable and far more likely to achieve academic and work success later in life.
child in cap and gown Despite this fact, only 39 percent of parents with children younger than age 3 read to them daily, and 40 percent of 8-year-olds in the United States cannot read by themselves, according to federal government statistics.
Dr. Titzer believes that one of the main reasons American children are having such difficulty is because they begin learning to read too late. "There's a window of opportunity for language adaptation that starts closing around age 4," he says. "Yet, we don't start teaching children how to read until age 5 or 6, after the brain is mostly developed."
But some people fear that trying to teach babies to read and comprehend language that early places too much pressure on them, and merely serves to confuse their already inundated minds.
"The first three years of a baby's life are crucial to their development and too much emphasis on trying to ensure they develop reading abilities can be confusing and somewhat misguided," says Matthew Melmed, Director of Zero to Three, a center for infants and toddlers in Washington D.C. "Giving small children all of that information may have certain drawbacks, because much of it is not relevant to them yet. By overdoing it, we run the risk of toddlers disengaging from the world around them, or not wanting to learn."
Dr. Titzer counters such concerns by stressing that reading and teaching your child to read is important but it must also be fun and enjoyable for them. "If they're not having a good time reading, or if they're just not interested, the adult should stop," Dr. Titzer says. "Babies can only sit for a few minutes for a story, but they will learn to sit longer as they grow. Watch your baby's cues for when he or she wants more or wants to stop."
In addition to making the experience as interactive and fun as possible, Dr. Titzer also recommends parents make reading part of a baby's daily routine – a good time is after meals or before naps. He suggests that parents hold their babies while reading, taking time to let them ask questions about the pictures and being patient when they flip through pages without actually reading.
"Being a parent can be so hectic sometimes," says Ignacio Enriquez, father of 2-year-old Santiago from Maui, Hawaii. "I love it when we read because it's one of the few moments when we just sit together. He's learning new words in English and Spanish every day, and you can tell that it really helps him to bring his whole world into focus."
Eddie Hartley - father of 3 children, works as a writer at the resume editing PapersEditing. This is a successful profession, as there is enough time for the family. Eddie share tips on parenting on your own experiences.