What early reading can do for your baby's mind

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Babybug Magazine

by Julie Snyder

Early ReaderBabies are born soaking up knowledge. By age three, your child's brain is twice as active as yours. It's busy preparing the groundwork for a lifetime of learning. Does a baby's brain benefit from early reading?

Experts say that it depends on whether you're reading with your baby or teaching your baby to read.

Reading to your child, snuggling together and talking about the story helps build a bond between you and encourages a love of books.

Explicitly teaching a baby to read may not be in your child's best interest.

Baby's most important task

Dr. John Medina, director of The Brain Center for Applied Learning Research, says that well-meaning moms and dads think their child's brain is interested in learning. That's not accurate. The brain's real interest is survival.

"If you want a well-educated child," he says, "create an environment of safety. When the brain's safety needs are met, it will allow its neurons to moonlight in algebra classes."

Forming a secure, healthy attachment with a caregiver gives your child deeper advantages than learning to read early.

Your baby needs a parent who pays attention to what's going on inside and responds in a way that's related to what they're feeling.

Babies and kids learn best through warm, responsive care giving. Singing silly songs, talking about colors and textures on your way through the grocery store or cuddling while reading a book stimulate a developing brain.

What about learning to decode the written language? Does your baby benefit from reading lessons?

Early reading may be bad for your baby

Marsha Lucas, Ph.D. says, "The fundamental task of early childhood isn’t learning to read. Encouraging children to surge ahead beyond their real developmental needs leaves them with some really sludgy clean-up to grapple with later on."

Early reading doesn't do much for a child's success in school, either.

Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D. and Pregnancy.org expert, compared two children -- one who learned to read as a preschooler and one at age six. "By fourth grade, the only difference is that the early reader feels insecure about no longer being 'special,' and often acts obnoxiously superior to other kids," she explains. "There's absolutely no benefit to pushing your child to read 'early,' and there are many drawbacks."

Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., director of Gesell Institute of Child Development, stated that hold off reading instruction until a young brain is developmentally ready would avoid nearly all reading failure. The areas involved in language and reading aren't fully connected until age seven or eight.

The idea that learning to read early gives kids an advantage is not evidence based. The United States and Britain have been trending toward earlier reading, with instruction starting in kindergarten or earlier.

Children in Finland begin learning to read at age seven. They not only catch up with their earlier-starting peers, but surpass the United States, other European countries and Asian countries with top scores in reading, science and math.

Read with your baby, early and often

Young children learn about language, communication, talking and writing long before they start school. Your child's first reading lessons begin at home as your baby snuggles in your lap looking at pictures in a book and listening to your voice. Reading out loud can:

✓ Stir your child's imagination
✓ Builds a desire to read
✓ Improves listening skills
✓ Boosts vocabulary
✓ Expands your child's world
✓ Creates a bond between you and your child

Do your baby a favor. Grab a book, lovingly interact and set the stage for a lifetime of learning. If someone asked which book would make a good gift for a friend's baby, what would you recommend?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.