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When Does Reading Begin?

May 29, 2020 ● By Nebraska Dyslexia Association

This article is featured in Lincoln Kids Magazine Summer 2020.


When does reading begin? In the classroom? Perhaps in the toddler phase, when children are learning to walk, talk, and eat with a spoon or fork? NO! Reading begins in the womb. Studies show that sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are developed by around 30 weeks of pregnancy, and unborn babies are listening to their mothers throughout the third trimester. They are absorbing language and recognizing their mother’s voice. Studies also state that the unborn baby tunes in to the sounds of speech, recognizing tone, prosody, and expressions in reading when mom reads aloud during pregnancy. From birth, children gather skills they’ll use in reading. The best way to instill a love for and interest in reading is to read to your child. Parents’ voices stimulate interest in sounds and help baby develop listening skills. 

Begin a reading routine early to help your baby build vocabulary, generate imagination, and build communication skills. Babies pick up on the rhythm of language. When reading aloud, try changing the pitch of your voice and using different voices for characters. 

Choose books with pictures and bright colors. Start with cloth or vinyl books, board books, or those with heavy-duty pages. Books with images hidden under flaps and sensory surprises like textures, noises, and fold-out sections are intriguing. Bond with your child over books. Foster patience and focus by limiting audiobooks, computers, television, and radio. 

Babies need to feel an emotional connection with the words being read and the bonding with the attentive parent interaction. Immerse them in the sounds and rhythms of speech to help their language development. Toddlers enjoy singsong rhythm and nursery rhymes. They often enjoy having the same book read over and over and over. Stop and ask them questions about the storyline and encourage observation by pointing out things in the pictures. Preschool-aged children will begin showing their interest and new-found knowledge of letters, numbers, and words on packages and signs. 

Play games involving letter and number recognition. Develop phonological awareness skills by practicing rhyming and identifying words that begin or end with the same sounds. You can also practice separating words with onset and rime, e.g., the onset for cat is /c/ and the rime is /-at/. Work on word building by segmenting words by their sounds and syllables, and blending sounds to make words or the segmented sounds within them.

Studies show that children who are routinely read to from a young age develop improved language skills and increased interest in reading, which helps prepare them for school. Reading aloud teaches an early learner about communication and introduces concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes in a fun way. 

It builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills, giving young learners information about the world around them. Parents, open the window to the world of literacy—read aloud to your child!

For more information on the development of reading skills, contact the Nebraska Dyslexia Association:

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