Literacy is the ability to read and write. Infants may not be physically ready to read and write themselves but introducing the concept of reading and writing in infancy is the most unshakeable foundation to a life of literacy that parents can give them.
It is never too early to sow the seed of a love for books. In fact the journey starts even before birth. Though a subject of debate, medical research suggests that the mother influences her unborn child’s post birth inclinations and aptitude by her own activities like reading. A pregnant woman who reads aloud her books or sings to her unborn child may be nurturing a literary expert or a music maestro in her womb. Prenatal studies suggest that Sensory stimulation starts as early as 20 weeks and that a child’s hearing develops by 5 months ( http://www.sfuhl.org/f_learning_in_womb.htm).
Post-birth; remember that even if your child cannot understand everything you read or gives you a blank stare or rolls away; hearing the sound of your voice repeatedly will soon get him intrigued, interested and even looking forward to the reading sessions. Often reading to an older sibling or teaching an older brother or sister to write will arouse the younger one’s interest.
It is important to realize that reading activities for infants have to be wholesome using all their senses. Visualization with bright colors and large images and reinforced with props and real life examples will whet their interest as little ones are at their exploratory best in their infancy and toddler years. There are animal books in the market which allow the child to touch and feel the ‘tawny fur’ on a lion cub, the ‘furry ears’ of a rabbit or the golden silks of dog hair.
Music and movement play an important part too in creating a wholesome experience for the infant. Listening to nursery rhymes is a favorite activity for infants. There are nursery books which can actually play the song when your baby presses a button; and pop-up story books too. If you are reading out a book containing vegetable and fruit names, make your child see, touch, smell and taste the veggie or fruit. The magical association between the written word and real life will make him happily curious.
The use of Flash Cards as a learning tool in infancy and early childhood is extremely effective. The vibrant rectangular, palm sized cards with pictures representing objects, alphabets and colors are the finest and easiest ways of encouraging literacy in infants who may lack the patience of listening to an entire book. Children love to sift through the cards, stack them and soon learn to recognize the images and associate them with the sounds of their names.
Fingering alphabets or numbers with the aid of sand paper or other sensory aids is another smart way to help children trace out the shape in their minds much before they actually learn to hold a pencil. The use of magnetic numbers and letters that can be stuck on a white board or even the refrigerator help the children learn about alphabets in a fun- unobtrusive way.
Bed time stories are not only effective in encouraging life- long reading habits but in also creating a special together time. If you have a fussy eater at hand or a hyper active child who refuses to sits at one place through the meal, you could also consider reading out stories to him during meal time. This will help him calm down and put an end to meal time battles.
Last but not the least, it pays to make reading activities a regular feature rather than a one-off thing. Even reading out aloud a billboard, a signpost, the apartment number and street names while you are outside the house will serve as a reinforcement to the young ones who are just discovering the world of letters and numbers and taking baby steps towards a literacy.