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Babies can't read, so why waste money on books they'll just slobber all over?
For good reason, says a local educator.
A cloth or board book might only show a different color, animal or body part on each page, but these are the seeds of reading. In the same way, scribbling and finger painting are the signs of a budding writer, according to Dr. Judy Stechley, associate professor or education at West Liberty University.
Stechley last month presented a free seminar open to all Ohio Valley parents at Wheeling Country Day School on this concept known as "emergent literacy."
"Literacy" encompasses both reading and writing. "We used to say 'reading readiness, ... but now we recognize the writing, too," Stechley said in an interview. "Emergent" is the term used to describe the way babies, toddlers and preschoolers become literate by being immersed in word-rich environments. Think of a flower seed being watered and receiving sun and nutrients. Eventually, it emerges from the soil, grows, buds and blooms.
"It's the way we cultivate it that allows it to emerge," she said.
From birth, babies should be read to, she said. "The more you read to them, the more they feel and hear the rhythm of the language." It doesn't really matter what you read, but books by Dr. Seuss - whose birthday was celebrated at schools and libraries throughout the Ohio Valley earlier this month - are the perfect choice because of their rhyming and rhythmic patterns.
As soon as babies begin to use their fingers to grasp, put a book in their little hands. Point to each page and say what is on it, Stechley said. Once their speech develops, they may start to "read" the book to you.
"People say, that's not reading, but it is reading," Stechley said. She cited the instance of her 2-year-old granddaughter Hannah reading a "my body" book her mother made for her, with pictures of Hannah's body parts and the corresponding words on each page. Eventually, she could turn each page, recognize each part and say the appropriate word. This is a perfect nurturing experience for a budding reader, she said.
Stechley said another way to cultivate literacy in children is to point out words in everyday life, on signs, at restaurants and at home on food labels and toy packages, for instance. Draw the child's attention to that big M for McDonald's, or the letters S-T-O-P on a stop sign, or the Target store sign or the Vocelli's pizza logo. Read the back of cereal boxes to your children, and show them what you're doing, Stechley said.
Finally, modeling is one of the most important ways to nurture literacy, she said. Read newspapers, magazines, books in front of your children every day.
When it comes to writing, Stechley said it is vital that parents don't dismiss a child's scribbles.
"Affirm their scribbles, affirm those drawings," she said, because they are the beginnings of writing. In fact, those scribbles are that toddler's writing and drawing.
When a child presents you with a drawing that looks like chicken scratch, ask her what it is. She may tell you it's you, or the cat, or a tree, or Mickey Mouse. Then, Stechley said, write that on the picture for her.
As the child learns letters, he may begin to write down words. It's OK, Stechley said, if they aren't spelled correctly.
"It's called invented spelling," she said, and parents should never correct it. Children eventually learn correct letter construction and spelling, she said, but now is the time for them to explore language and to be encouraged in their efforts.
"As adults, we hinder children when we say, 'Well, you don't spell it that way or don't do it that way.'"