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Literacy begins at an early age
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Schools get the blame when a child can't read at a young age, but experts say literacy begins in infancy.
Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the ability to read and communicate actually begins before birth.
"The mother and father's physical health and well-being is critical in the prenatal development of the baby's brain," Davis said. "Parents should do what they can to ensure their own physical health is as good as it can be for the sake of their baby's proper development."
According to the National Research Council, healthy babies learn language by hearing it used, and their understanding and use of the spoken language leads to reading and writing skills as the child ages.
"After the baby is born, the baby needs to be read to and talked to," Davis said. "Babies learn by imitating and modeling their parents' language and speech patterns."
Davis said research has proven that language is creative and is a significant type of social interaction. As babies babble, coo and use words and phrases to express meaning, adults react to them and help the baby learn that language is meaningful.
"Meaningful language has to occur between the baby and the parent and any caregivers," Davis said. "Eye contact with the baby is important, and babies need to be talked to, read to and sung to frequently. It stimulates the brain."
In addition to reading, talking and singing to babies, parents and caregivers should give the child materials for writing, should take them to visit libraries and bookstores, and help them develop a love of reading. Limit televison viewing and only watch appropriate shows, provide numerous opportunities for play and exploration. Select quality childcare that promotes a learning environment.
"Most importantly, parents and caregivers should model the behavior they want to see in the child. Make sure your child sees you reading and knows how much you enjoy it," Davis said. "Since children imitate what they see adults do, this will encourage the child to get involved in reading."
Davis said consistency is important in language development, as in all areas of a child's life.
"The primary caregiver is the most important person in that child's life," Davis said. "Consistency helps establish a sense of trust and well-being within children that promotes their overall development."