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Reading On with Early Childhood Literacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of our lives upside down and has created unique challenges to raising a family. With many libraries closed and story times canceled, my partner and I have sought strategies to support our young child’s development while creating opportunities to share joy and love during an overwhelming time. Intentionally exploring early childhood literacy as a young family has been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience.

It is common to think that early childhood literacy refers to teaching kids to read at a young age. However, it is really about establishing the foundation for reading and language in the first few years of life by reading, talking, singing and gesturing to your child. These interactions, combined with regular reading, are essential to stimulate optimal patterns of brain development and should be started at birth. In fact, earlier initiation of reading aloud with a child is associated with better preschool language skills and a greater interest in reading; so, the sooner, the better.

Additionally, reading enables parents to devote 100% of their love and attention to the child, which strengthens the bonds critical for social-emotional development. Parents benefit from the opportunity to be present, cuddle and share in their child’s joy.

As a first-time father, I have learned a lot about how to read to a child. I discovered that sometimes practicing literacy with a young child can seem unnatural. I found it helpful to be intentional in my efforts. Initially, it was slightly awkward reading to such a young baby, but after establishing a routine of reading before naps and bedtime, it became much easier. My son and I soon looked forward to this bonding time. I noticed his breathing would change with the sound of my reading voice as he entered a tranquil state. As he got older and placed the book in his mouth, wiggled and grabbed the pages, I had to adjust my expectations away from reading each page from start to finish. I learned to make it less about regimented reading and more free-flowing fun with books.

As he continues to grow and change, so do our reading sessions. We incorporate songs, books and words into our daily lives. We use play, talk and rhyme to include him in our activities. We provide simple choices, ask him questions and point out things in the environment, such as animals, shapes, colors, letters, etc., all things that help his learning and language development while being fun and easy to implement. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to read to a child, but here are several additional tips I find helpful:

Read favorite stories over and over, repetition aids learning.

Point at and name things.

Run your finger along the words as you read them.

Talk about the pictures, create your own story.

Follow your child’s lead, be flexible.

Be silly, make the story come alive.

Most of all, love your little one and have fun! FBN

By Keith Arnold, M.D. MPH

Keith Arnold is a Family Medicine Physician new to Flagstaff Family Care. He has extensive training in newborn and pediatric care and is excited to support families and children in the Flagstaff community.  High, P. C., MD. (2014). Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics, 142(2), 404-409.

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