Guest Columnist

Early learning experiences are important

A public official looks at a board book that has words in Swahili and English in it as he tours the Eastern Iowa Health Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. The clinic sees a number of refugees that speak the African language. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A public official looks at a board book that has words in Swahili and English in it as he tours the Eastern Iowa Health Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. The clinic sees a number of refugees that speak the African language. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

What happens early in the lives of our children is vital to prepare them not just for school, but for success in life. Learning to read and write is a long process that doesn’t suddenly start once a child enters school. In fact, it starts in infancy and what we do as adults is critical. Early learning experiences are linked with not just your child’s later school performance but prepares them to succeed as an adult. Evidence indicates that the skills and abilities children learn between birth and five years predicts their later reading outcomes. What can we do as caregivers?

Language and literacy work together, with each skill helping the other one develop. What children learn from listening and talking contributes to their ability to read and write, and vice versa. Immediately after birth talk, smile, and “listen” to your baby. Pay attention to them and make it a two-way conversation in an electronics free environment. Babies learn from imitating what they hear. Smile when they smile, respond when they coo.

Research shows reading regularly with infants and young children stimulates optimal brain development and makes the parent-child relationship stronger. Reading aloud with young children is one of the most effective ways to expose them to enriched language and encourage school readiness. Unfortunately, one in three U.S. children start kindergarten without the language skills needed to learn to read. Reading proficiency by the third grade is the most important predictor of success in high school and careers.

All of us are busy and face increasing pressure from the beguiling allure of electronics, but reading to your child from infancy, when the brain is primed to learn, is vital for developing literacy skills and nurturing parent-child relationships. 4 Earlier initiation of reading aloud with your child is associated with better preschool language skills and a greater interest in reading. Poor reading skills are associated with less job success and poverty.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the five “Rs” to promote school readiness. 1. It is no accident that our first “R” is Reading! Read together every day from infancy. 2. Rhyming, playing, talking, and singing from early infancy (oral language development) is the foundation for later reading and writing success. 3. Routines and Regular schedules (consistent: mealtimes, down on the floor playtime, sleeping). 4. Rewards for everyday successes (verbal praise is very powerful). 5. Relationships. Nurturing relationships are the foundation for a healthy brain and development.

How we interact with our children from birth is vitally important. A firm foundation begins with language and progresses to reading and writing. Resist the deceptive enticement of electronics. Smile, talk, and interact with your baby. Read to your child early and often. Your child’s brain learns much better from electronics free down on the floor play time, talking, singing, rhyming, and reading. The time you put in with your child those first few years will set them up for success in high school and beyond.

• Dr. James Livermore is a pediatrician at the Eastern Iowa Health Center.

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