Babies and toddlers need more reading time

A recent national study shows there's good news and challenges when it comes to families reading daily with infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

The good news is parents recognize that reading with young children is important in developing language and literacy skills. The challenge is families aren't starting early enough.

Scholastic recently released the Kids and Family Reading Report, its annual survey of children's reading. The report shows that while 73 percent of parents say they started reading aloud to their child before age 1, more than 50 percent say they did not start until their baby was 6 months old.

First Things First reminds Arizona families that 90 percent of a child's critical brain development happens by age 5 and daily interactions with caregivers have a huge impact on building vocabulary and language. When infants hear and use language, their brains develop the connections needed to learn how to read.

"General knowledge, attention and vocabulary at ages 3 and 4 correlate to reading comprehension skills in third and fourth grade," First Things First Senior Director of Early Learning Ginger Sandweg said. "Reading, talking, singing and playing with young children are ways that families can use everyday moments to encourage literacy and language development."

Statewide, First Things First's YouTube page hosts videos that demonstrate how to read with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The organization also partners with Read On Arizona, which engages communities in supporting early literacy for kids birth to 8 years old and has an early literacy guide and book suggestions for every developmental stage on their website, readonarizona.org.

Locally, First Things First provides support for Raising a Reader, an early literacy program that helps parents and child care providers develop book-sharing routines with children. Yavapai College coordinates the program throughout Yavapai County, partnering primarily with childcare providers, preschool centers and home visitation programs, according to a news release. Participating children share a collection of children's books with their classmates.

The program also works to foster family connections to local libraries to support literacy habits at home with parents, caregivers and children.

"Reading with your child is one of the most important things you can do to help them succeed in school," said Leona Vittum Jones, Prescott Public Library's lead youth librarian. "When you read with your child you are introducing them to a wider vocabulary, the concept of letters and sounds and helping create a positive experience with books and reading."

Jones recommends reading, talking, singing, writing and playing as ways families can help their young children learn language and literacy skills that set them up for success in school.

Here are a few things families can do to help their babies and toddlers develop those important language and literacy skills:

• Read to your child every day starting at birth. Even very young babies respond to the warmth of a lap and the soothing sound of a book being read aloud.

• Keep a lot of reading material in your home and let your child see you reading.

• Make frequent visits to the public library.

• Talk frequently to your baby, toddler or preschooler; ask them lots of questions and listen patiently to their answers.

• Sing songs and make up rhymes.

• Choose books appropriate to your child's age and interests; for example, board or cloth books that a baby can hold.

• Point out letters in your child's environment.

• Read signs and labels out loud; talk about how things are similar and different.