Guidelines for Acquiring Early Literacy
- Make it multi-sensory. Allow your baby/child to see words at the same time she or he hears them.
- Point to words from left-to-right as you say them.
- Ideally, start as soon as your baby has “visual tracking” (the ability to follow moving objects with the eyes). If your child is older than 3 months, start as soon as you can. Research shows that children who are taught to read at age 3 or 4 years read better years later than children of the same IQ who are taught at age 5 or 6 years. Those taught at age 5 or 6 read better than children of the same IQ who are taught at age 7 or 8. [We will post the longitudinal benefits of early reading soon. The studies are consistent – learning to read earlier provides long-term benefits.]
- Start with slightly larger font sizes words for infants under 5 months of age and gradually reduce the size as the baby is a few months older. By 12 months of age, the size of the words is not very important as long as the words are big enough for you to read, then they should be big enough for your baby to see.
- Isolate the words. While the size of the fonts isn’t so important for babies over the age of 12 months, removing the “background noise” or distractions is very important. Initially, show one word at a time with minimal auditory or visual distractions in the background.
- Use ‘parentese’ when saying the words to infants. Parentese is using a higher pitched voice and slightly elongating the vowel sounds. Initially, over-enunciate to make sure that your baby can differentiate similar sounding words.
- Use lowercase letters the vast majority of the time, but follow capitalization rules. In English, almost every book (except for many baby books) is printed in lowercase letters and follows capitalization rules. Since you want your child to read at fast speeds in the future under these conditions, use lowercase letters.
- Add the meanings of the words most of the time. For babies under 6 months of age, show the objects, body parts, or actions that demonstrate the meanings immediately after you show and say the words. Adding the meanings becomes less important over time as babies increase their understanding of the meanings. The advantage of not demonstrating the meanings is that you can show more words in less time.
- Repeat some words many times more than other words. If your baby is watching the YBCR DVDs, consider showing the following words more frequently than other words: clap, wave, waving, mouth, and nose. These words are repeated more frequently in the DVDs and this should speed up the learning of the words especially if you are pointing out these words frequently on our Lift-the-Flap Books and on our Sliding Word Cards.
- Vary the fonts, colors, background colors, font sizes, print materials, the order in which you present the words, time of day, locations where you show the words, and even the people who sows the words. For babies under 12-months-old, use mostly high-contrast color combinations, such as black on white for young babies. Use handwritten printing on whiteboards, chalkboards, paper, etc.
- Make learning interactive. Ask your child to look at words, point to words, say words, move words, match words and corresponding objects, place objects next to the appropriate words, answer questions by doing actions, jump on words, run to words, find words, etc.
- Have fun! If you are enjoying yourself, your baby or child is probably going to have more fun too.
- Make it easy for you. Put stacks of words in different rooms of your home, in the car, in the stroller, and wherever it will make it more convenient for you. Keep a whiteboard or notebook nearby and write down words while you are playing with your baby. A notebook works great because you can review words that you have already printed. When you are tired, put in a “Your Baby Can Read!” (YBCR) DVD and interact with the video by saying every word as soon as it comes on the screen and by answering the questions in the videos. This will provide a good demonstration for your baby. If you are on the phone, on your laptop, or otherwise busy, put on a YBCR DVD and let your baby watch while you quietly talk on the phone, read, etc. (while you observe your baby). You will have more energy after taking this short break and you will likely make the most of your precious time with your baby.
- Allow family members and friends to show your baby words. Your baby will benefit by having different teachers along with different teaching styles. Even if your friends or family members don’t show the words exactly like you may want, it will be great for you and your child.
- Vary how you show words. Studies indicate that infants’ learning generalizes more if they have many different experiences instead the same experience repeated over and over. Most of the time, you will be teaching and saying the words as you point from left to right, then acting out the meanings. You can also begin playing fun word games some of which I will explain in future posts. Occasionally, do recognition or recall activities. Show words on whiteboards, on hand printed word cards, in books (when there are only a few words per page), on TV and computer screens (as long as your baby isn’t too close to the screen it shouldn’t be harmful – I am talking about showing highly educational programming not entertainment-based shows which can be harmful), with individual magnetic letters on your refrigerator, with foam letters in the tub, using sticks in the sand or dirt, and numerous other ways.
- Make it natural for your baby to see words at the same time she or he hears words throughout the day by writing down words that are related to what you and your baby are doing. Get in a habit of writing down key words throughout the day and pointing to words as you say them. Do this even if it is only for a few seconds here and there. The main idea is for your baby to acquire the written language naturally in a way that is similar to how your baby acquires the spoken language. To do this, simply add written language to what you are already doing. If you are not with your baby for most of the day, then do what you can to select someone to care for your baby who will want to help your baby learn and show your baby words, if possible. In some cases, loaning the daycare provider a YBCR DVD could make a big difference.
- Be creative. Play games with your baby with written (and spoken) words. Make variations of your games and make the games more challenging as your child’s skills improve. Play matching games with words and objects, sorting games with written words, physical games with words, object naming games, Bingo, etc. Add words to simple games or activities that you and your child enjoy. Add written words to the activities that you do frequently.
- 18) Make sure your child understands the difference between the word and what the word represents. In other words, sometimes you might say, “This is the word ‘arm’ — this is ‘your arm’ — and this is ‘my arm’.” while you are pointing to or touching the word, your baby’s arm, and your arm, respectively. Later, you could ask your child, “Where is the word ‘arm’? Where is my arm? Where is your arm?” In addition, you could also use a photo and say something such as, “This is the word ‘elbow’, this is your elbow, this is my elbow, and this is a picture of a child’s elbow.” while pointing to or touching each of these. Ask questions to see if your child can point to the photo of child’s elbow, the word ‘elbow’, and each person’s actual elbow.
- Understand the difference between recognition and recall activities. It will be easier to answer recognition questions than recall questions, so start with recognition activities. A multiple choice test is a recognition activity. One has to recognize the correct answer and not recall it. An open-ended question would be a recall activity. Recognition questions give your child some options from which to select the answer(s). For example, say “Find the word ‘clap’!” while the words ‘clap’ and ‘waving’ are in your baby’s view. Later, you can have three or more options. A recall activity would be asking your baby “What does this say?” while holding up a word. Do recognition activities most of the time until your child consistently selects the correct responses, then gradually transition to some recall activities for those words. When you introduce new words, start with recognition questions again.
Please share your testimonials or videos here, or please feel free to ask questions.
Dr. Bob Titzer