Parents of pre-school children have often spoken to me to ask how soon they can begin to teach their child to read. My answer has been simple - from the moment they are born.
Did I hear you correctly?
Yes you did, but like many before you, this reply has usually caused confusion or lack of understanding.
You see, what parents don't always understand is that reading, in the accepted sense, is only a small part of the wider and more important skill of communication.
Communication is the key to all learning.
That's correct and if we want our children to be confident, life-long learners, communication skills should begin from the first few seconds of their life.
But the sad fact is - we don't talk to our children enough.
Think back to when your baby was first put into your arms. You did the most natural thing in the world - you spoke to him - communication began.
Unfortunately, for many babies, this important communication stops just as quickly as it begins. Many parents will make the excuse that it seems pointless to talk to someone who doesn't understand what you are saying.
But the fact is that that is far from the truth.
They understand and respond far more than you think.
You see, from the moment your baby is born he begins to communicate with you.
He cries, which tells you immediately that something is wrong. OK he can't say exactly what is wrong, but you know by instinct whether he's hungry, wet, tired, sick, or needs contact with you in the form of a cuddle.
But as well as developing their own brand of communication, babies also respond to the sound of your voice. For them this voice very quickly means food, touch and warmth.
Have you noticed how quickly they become calm when you just talk to them, before you even pick them up?
It's seems obvious then that by talking to your baby, even when he can't understand the words, is strengthening communication.
Studies have shown that mums find it easier to talk to their babies than dads do. They are happier to make and repeat the noises and coos that their babies make. So come on dads, stop thinking about appearing foolish and start taking part in developing these important, early communication skills.
Why is this so important?
Well, research has shown that the more words a baby hears from another human being, rather than say, the TV, the earlier they will begin to talk, and the faster their vocabulary will grow.
Can you see that by simple communication, you're giving them a much better chance of success?
What's worrying is that children in families with a lower income, hear about thirty MILLION less words than their counterparts in a higher socio-economic status families. It's possible that this is due to the lack of availability or use of book sharing - as reading aloud enables your baby to hear and respond to your voice.
Recent research also show that by the time they reach school age, boys can be up to two years behind girls with verbal communication skill.
Now that's scary.
So what can we do to give our child the best advantage?
Talk to your baby regularly -
- Talk about the clothes you're dressing him in; what you're preparing for breakfast or lunch; what you see as you're walking along the street - in fact just a running commentary on daily life.
- Continue talking as he grows and begin to ask him questions
- Encourage dad to join in - it doesn't have to be baby talk - football will work just as well!
- It's never too early to read books or talk about the pictures. If you show that you love books, your baby will learn to love them too.
- Singing and rhyming are a natural way to communicate and most babies and children love music and are calmed by it - that's why it's natural to sing them to sleep.
- If you find that your baby doesn't respond, please talk to your doctor and have his hearing checked
Now I appreciate that all this may seem very strange at first, but if you work at it, it will become the most natural thing in the world and your baby will soon be talking back to you. You'll have given him the very best start to develop great communication and early reading skills.
And by the time he'd ready to start school, his highly developed communication skills will give him the power to access the curriculum immediately. Starting school is a life changing experience and your little one only has one chance to get it right.
Without the appropriate skills he could be playing 'catch up' from day one - so let's get things off to a great start here and now.