Reading, writing, and deciphering are the tools with which our children are equipped to acquire their education. The way they learn those rudiments, therefore, will influence their success in the world of academia. Just as reading is more than decoding words, writing requires more than penmanship, and deciphering must be introduced with thinking skills that precede solving written equations or reciting the math facts. We can introduce these skills to our children, instructing them in ways that will develop thinking skills and foster a love of learning in simple, yet, profound ways that encourage their development and lead to success in education. With thoughtful planning, lifestyle habits which can give a child an advantage when he is ready to start academics and reading, can be formed with minimal effort. The stages of early development are really not as technical as they are natural.
“Is the baby asleep, yet?”
“Yes, I just saw Mom put her in bed. I can smell the popcorn; is it ready?”
“Yes! Did mom start a fire in the fireplace?”
“Yes! I brought out the sleeping bags. I think we are ready!”
A Friday night read aloud time created memories our children still recall as adults. We read aloud almost every day, but some evenings were given an extra special touch of atmosphere.
I have since learned that an emphasis placed on reading aloud can actually give children an advantage in learning. Parents who read aloud to their children daily, or at least weekly, have found that their children have better vocabularies than those who have not experienced family time reading aloud. The habit of attention and the skill of visualization are developed as a child listens to a story. His vocabulary is increased, not by drilling, but by hearing the words in context during a good story; the imagination is stirred, and mental connections are made. Research shows that children with larger oral vocabularies have an easier time learning to read with comprehension, and parents who read regularly for personal benefit more often have children who are better readers (Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way).
Another lifestyle habit that encourages pre-academic development in your child is meaningful conversation. It is easy to tune out our young children, especially the really talkative ones with their incessant questions. Every day, plan time for some one-on-one, eye-to-eye listening to your child. It doesn’t have to be a great quantity of time, but be sure it is quality listening. If your child does not really want to talk, do not force conversation. Be attentive and observant, though, when he is interested and desires to verbalize his thoughts. Young children who communicate their thoughts develop a better command of oral language and do better when learning to read.
Gross Motor Skills
Vital for brain development in the young child is the lifestyle habit of outdoor play. The advantages for the child who spends several hours daily outdoors are numerous and include much more than getting the wiggles out and enjoying the benefits of fresh air. Nature exploration, sensory development, rest from strain to the child’s nervous system and vision, and psychological health are all enhanced outdoors. Because the brain develops from lower systems to the higher thinking systems, early development must include movement and sensory experiences. Movement is critical for the young child because vital connections to higher thinking regions of the brain occur as a child moves. Motor development begins with gross motor skills (GMS) involving the large muscle groups: arms, legs, shoulders, chest, and abdomen. Outdoor play is the best environment for building GMS Playing tag, climbing, swinging, skipping, jumping, spinning, crawling, hopping on one foot, riding a tricycle and then a bicycle without training wheels are some of the gross motor skills that are foundational to later academic work.
Fine Motor Skills
Development progresses as GMS are being mastered and the fine motor skills (FMS) become easier for the child to accomplish. FMS, also a precursor to reading, require the use of the hands, wrists, and fingers. As your child is building with Lincoln Logs or Legos, or is creating with play dough, the FMS being developed encourage hand-eye coordination. Sewing cards, nesting toys, and puzzles are other activities that build FMS. These skills aid the development and coordination of the eye muscles and the ocular motor skills (OMS), the skill mastery required of the eyes before a child will be able to read. In order to prepare a child for success in reading and academic learning, parents must take the development of the motor skills seriously.
Variety of Sensory Experiences
A lifestyle habit of offering sensory experiences also prepares the young child for the school years. Encourage the development of the sense of touch for your baby by using slings and carriers more than seats and strollers. Outdoors is the best place for developing the senses, except for taste. I would save that one for a more controlled environment. Guide the young child to observe, allowing him to grow in his ability to see details in nature. Activities such as hunting for the singing bird or croaking frog, feeling the softness of moss or the scratchy trunk of a tree, following the line of ants to their home, or smelling the fragrance of freshly mown grass, offer vital sensory experiences for your child. At meal times, frequently introduce a new food served with other foods of familiar taste. Begin early encouraging your child to explore new foods.
The beginning of reading is not learning the alphabet with the sounds that accompany each letter or blend; the beginning of writing is not learning the strokes; and the beginning of deciphering is not learning the numbers. All of these skills should be preceded by frequent times of listening to someone read aloud, meaningful conversation, motion mastery and experiences that develop the senses of the young child. With a solid and natural developmental foundation, parents can recognize when their child is ready to be launched into the world of academia.