Literacy is the term used to refer to reading and writing skills. It develops from birth to around 3 years of age, so long before a child can even read or write. It follows that what children encounter at home during these early days makes a huge contribution to their reading and writing skills later in life.
Stasia Thompson, of the Loyola University Health System writes that signs of a child’s being at risk for developing poor literacy skills include:
Persistent baby talk
Lack of interest in nursery rhyme or shared book reading
Difficulty understanding simple directions
Difficulty learning and/or remembering names of letters
Difficulty recognizing and/or identifying letters in his/her name
Difficulty expressing language
Parents and caregivers can do much to encourage and even catch up on literacy development. Suggested tips include:
Talk with your child during daily routines (e.g., getting ready for school, mealtime)
Name objects, people, and events at home and in the community
Repeat your child’s string of sounds and add to them
Respond to his or her questions
Draw attention to print (e.g., traffic signs, store logos, food containers)
Introduce new vocabulary words during holidays or special activities (e.g., birthdays, zoo, park)
Read picture and storybooks (e.g., Dr. Seuss) that focus on sounds, rhymes, and alliteration (i.e., words that start with the same sound)
Point to words and pictures that you read and see in books
Encourage drawing and scribbling using markers, crayons, paper, paint, etc.
Encourage your child to describe or tell a story about his/her drawing and write down the words
Be aware of your child’s interest in and development of language. It seems that recognising and addressing any concerns about a child’s speech and language development helps overcome later reading and writing difficulties. Speech and language therapists are trained to help in this regard.
Recent research suggested a link between curiosity and better school performance. There are also reports that hours spent watching TV might adversely affect some areas of development in young children. Now there is a study that offers a way of countering negative effects of TV watching while encouraging curiosity in young children. The key is engaging in conversation with young children during shared TV time.
Researchers found that the more parents engaged in conversation with preschoolers while watching TV, the more likely those children were to have higher curiosity levels when they reached kindergarten. This was particularly true for children with socioeconomic disadvantages.
Prachi Shah, M.D. M.S., a developmental and behavioural paediatrician at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital said “Our findings reinforce the importance of parent conversation to promote early childhood development and curiosity, especially for children from under-resourced families.”
“Parent-child conversation facilitates children’s thinking, learning and exploration—all behavioural indicators of curiosity” she said and added: “We know that more frequent parent-child conversation is promotive of several areas of early child development, and this could be true for promoting a child’s curiosity as well.”
Sitting in front of the TV alone or while parents are on their phones? Perhaps not so beneficial. But watching a show, movie, or other content with parents while talking together could be associated with fostering a preschoolers’ curiosity, Shah said.
Our children spend a great deal of time looking at screens – whether computers, tablets, TVs, smartphones and others. This has escalated during these Covid times, especially with on-line schooling.
Long hours of focussing on screens can cause eye strain. Dr Geoff Bradford , a Paediatrician, says that symptoms of this include:
Eye fatigue. Muscles around the eye, like any others, can get tired from continued use. Concentrating on a screen for extended periods can cause concentration difficulties and headaches centred around the temple and eyes. Children may also use screen devices where lighting is less than ideal, causing fatigue from squinting.
Blurry vision. Gazing at the same distance for long periods can cause the eye’s focusing system to spasm or temporarily “lock up.” This causes a child’s vision to blur when he or she looks away from the screen.
Dry eyes. Studies show that people blink significantly less often when concentrating on a digital screen, which can leave eyes dry and irritated. Desktop and laptop computer usecan be especially tough on children’s eyes, because they’re usually situated higher up in the visual field than a book, for example. As a result, the upper eyelids tend to be open wider—speeding up evaporation of the eye’s tear film.
Here are some suggestions to help:
Monitor screen time. Even though it is understandable that on-line learning necessitates more screen time, parents are encouraged to make sure screen time doesn’t intrude on exercise, play and sleep time.
Remind children to take frequent breaks. Children frequently get so absorbed in what they’re doing that they don’t notice symptoms of eye strain. The American Optometric Association recommends the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. In addition, children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour. A simple timer can help your child remember.
Remind them to blink. Research published in The New England Journal of Medicinesays staring at a computer can cut blinking rates by half and cause dry eyes. If your child is bothered by dry eyes, your optometrist or paediatrician may recommend eye drops or a room humidifier.
Position screens correctly. Make sure the screen on your child’s desktop or laptop computer is slightly below eye level. Looking up at a screen opens eyes wider and dries them out quicker. Adjusting the font size, especially on smaller screens, so it’s twice as big as your child can comfortably read may also help to reduce eye fatigue.
Improve the lighting. To cut down on glare and eye fatigue, consider the level of lighting in the room when using a computer or other screen. Ideally, it should be roughly half what it would be for other activities such as writing on paper or working on crafts. Try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures isn’t shining directly on screens. Decrease the brightness of the screen to a more comfortable level for viewing. Children who wear prescription eyeglasses may have an anti-reflective coating added, as well. Computer monitor hoods or shades that attach to the screen may also be a good option.
Have your child’s vision checked annually. If your child is having blurry vision or similar eye problems, he or she may not speak up. That’s why it’s important to arrange for regular eye-checks to pick up possible problems.
We tend to think of reading as a skill learned once a child starts school. These days, it seems that pre-schools are also preparing children for reading to give them a head start. The truth is that babies are amassing skills needed for reading from their early weeks of life and it is within the family circle that they truly get the help they need for ease of later reading.
During infancy, babies are processing voice tones, learning to recognise the voices of family members, picking up patterns of language and gradually making sense of sounds. Babies need lots of listening, encouragement to communicate and speech and language activities to start their journey towards reading – not just sharing books.
Karen Boardman, writing for The Conversation, reminds us that as toddlers develop their language and communication skills and build vocabulary, they learn to use pictures, words and sounds, tell and retell familiar stories, and sing songs and rhymes. In turn, these activities help them navigate pictures, words and sentences they then see in the pages of books.
Here are five tips from Karen to support early reading for children aged under three.
1: Create a “chatty” environment
Encourage and support lots of communication. Talking to babies and toddlers helps them build vocabulary, while conversation a child simply overhears does not always contribute to their vocabulary development.
Take turns in conversations and comment on their activities and the routines of the day. This could be when getting dressed, during play, nappy changing or taking a walk through the park. This will enable under-threes to begin to develop receptive language — the ability to understand others.
Have fun with rhythm and music making
Play lots of rhyming games, sing nursery rhymes, comment on rhyming patterns in songs and make lots of music. Repetition and predictable rhyme helps children remember new words.
Alliteration and assonance in poetry and nursery rhymes draws attention to the individual sounds and patterns in words.
Share familiar images
Use images, such as pictures and photographs of familiar places, objects, families and communities, to create meaningful shared experiences for children under three. Make books with photographs or apps to encourage talk and interaction about children’s home cultures and families. Encourage children to point out the details they encounter in pictures. ‘Reading’ pictures helps children learn to read as they begin to make connections, understand sequences of stories and further develop their comprehension skills. Very young children are adept at interpreting visual texts and noticing details.
Draw attention to print in daily life
Use your environment and local community to point out words at home, or out and about. This could be print on cereal boxes, signs or logos. Encountering print in their environment helps under-threes recognise letters, sounds and images that have meaning.
Engage with books frequently
Shared book reading, story time and retelling stories together are valuable points of connection and social interaction for under-threes. When supportive adults encourage the exploration of pictures, draw attention to the text and the conventions of print, and talk about the characters or the sequence of the story, the story comes alive to create awe and wonder for children.
Choose a range of books—cloth, sensory, picture books and story books or online story apps. Ensure that under-threes also have access to these, so they are able to choose books or apps themselves, turn pages or handle interactive technology.
Puppets, props and role-play help to make books or stories and rhymes interactive and help children recreate stories through imaginative play. Under-threes need to relate images, sounds and words to their own experiences, so ensure that the props you use link to the child’s culture and daily life.
A recent study, published in Pediatric Research finds that the more curious the child, the more likely he or she will perform better in school, regardless of economic background.
Curiosity is driven by the pleasure gained from discovery. This drives the desire to explore and seek answers to the unknown. We are all aware of the natural curiosity of toddlers – giving rise to the seemingly endless questions they ask. To encourage school success, it may be worthwhile cultivating that curiosity during the school years.
Apart from helping to motivate learning, curiosity seems to help the child stay focused in class. The researchers concluded that while promoting curiosity might foster early academic achievement – especially for children from lower socio-economic environments providing possibly less stimulation of an academic nature – further research is needed to know how to cultivate curiosity in young children.
In the meantime, respond positively to those questions and try to encourage the early love of exploring and finding out about the world.
Strange as it may seem, recent research suggests that children’s reading ability may well be negatively affected by sleeping problems.
The study, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, included 339 children aged four to 14 years. Parents completed questionnaires about their children’s sleeping patterns and the children were tested for word reading efficiency.
Children with reports of sleep-disordered breathing, daytime sleepiness and a short time needed to fall asleep (which is generally associated with increased tiredness) had poorer performance on reading tasks for both words and nonwords.
“Being a good reader is a strong predictor of academic success and improved life outcomes, so we recommend screening children with sleep problems for reading difficulties and children with reading difficulties for sleep problems” wrote author Anna Joyce, Ph.D., MSc, of Regent’s University London. “Screening and treating sleep and literacy difficulties at a young age could help to improve life outcomes for all children.”