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Jewish World Review March 30, 2001 / 6 Nissan, 5761

Dorothy P. Dougherty

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Consumer Reports

Your child and the gift of reading -- YOUR child's world will be forever expanded and enriched if you develop his imagination and curiosity through books.

Studies have shown that children who are read to early are more likely to be successful in school and in life. Many school-age children who are good readers had parents who read, and read to them.

- Infants:

Hold your infant in your arms and read to him. Read the daily newspaper, your favorite novel or even your shopping list. Although at first he will not understand the meaning of your words, researchers have found that babies can learn and remember the rhyme and inflections of the language spoken around him. His developing brain is learning how to process sounds and he needs a steady stream of stimuli.

When choosing books for a very young child, experts suggest simple, brightly illustrated books constructed of cloth or cardboard. Choose books with little text that illustrate objects and actions that are familiar to hold his attention a little longer. Your baby will learn the meaning of words by hearing them repeated many times. Read the same book over and over to develop his vocabulary and comprehension.

At any age, children are more likely to pay attention and learn the meaning of words when the reader uses animated gestures and different voice. Read the words and point to the pictures in an expressive way with lots of "oohs" and "ahhs."

Around two to five months of age, your baby may enjoy books with rhyme and repetition. It is a good time to take advantage of his growing curiosity by playing games as you read. For example, run your finger up his arm when you read "Hickory Dickory Dock, The Mouse Ran up the Clock." At around nine months of age, encourage your child to point to the picture that you name. For example, "Show me the dog."

- Toddlers:

Between 1 and 3 years of age, a child may be working on his movement skills and sitting may not be first on his list of things to do. Therefore, choosing a time when your child is relatively calm may make reading a more pleasurable experience for both of you. Often, let him pick the book and where and when he wants to read it. Children usually enjoy books with colorful pictures or books that he can "touch and feel" or find something hidden under a flap.

At times, your young child may enjoy talking about the pictures rather then having you actually "read" the words on the pages. Research indicates that reading a story has a greater influence on literary development when a child has an opportunity to engage in conversation about the story. As you point to the pictures together, talk about them in relation to an object in your child's environment. "See the ball, your ball is under the table."

Compare objects in the book with objects he is familiar with. "The boy has a red shirt. Your shirt is the same color." Or, "This dog is little, Bandit is big." Point out the functions and different parts of objects and animals.

As you read a story, let your child hold an object in his hand that relates to the story. While reading a book about zoo animals, for example, give him a toy giraffe. This will help him focus on the words and develop his listening skills.

- Preschoolers:

By age 3, most children can follow a story line and will understand and remember many ideas that are presented in a simple storybook. It is important to establish a special time to read as well as special places where books are kept in your home. Your child should be able to reach books and get them himself.

As a special treat, fill an old large pocketbook or beach bag with books by a favorite author (Mother Goose) or theme (vehicles) your child enjoys. Place it near a rocking chair or favorite spot where you enjoy reading together for easy access.

Your young child may enjoy choosing books at the library about experiences he has had or is going to have; such as going to the zoo or on an airplane ride, or having a new baby in the house. Talk about the story as you are reading it or later on in the day to help your child develop his ability to recall important information.

Reinforce story concepts and vocabulary in your child's natural environment. For example, "The Mitten" by Alvin Tresselt is a story about a group of animals that find shelter inside a lost mitten. After reading this childhood favorite, help your child discover how many of his toy animals or small objects he can fit in his mitten. Try it with a grown-up mitten and talk about why you need more objects to fill it up.

Encourage your child to participate in reading the words. Read a few words and let him fill in the blanks. The boy is sitting on the ... At first, point to the picture, such as the swing. The next time you read the story, try just saying the phrase with the blank and see if he can say the word without your pointing cue.

Sometimes, simply tell your child a story to inspire him to create stories of his own.

- Adults: As children of readers are more likely to become readers themselves, set a good example for your child. Perhaps you are able to set aside a short time each day to read your favorite magazine, novel or newspaper. Let your child observe you reading words aloud as you go about your daily life activities.

For example, read cards and letters from friends to your child. Read road signs on billboards as you drive. Read the labels on cans, boxes and jars as you shop. Read the words on coupons. Let your child find the product you need by matching the word on the coupon to the words on the product. While cooking, read recipes out loud and let your child help you follow the directions.

Dorothy P. Dougherty is a speech pathologist and author of "How to Talk to Your Baby: A Guide to Maximizing Your Child's Language and Learning Skills. Comment by clicking here.


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