I recently attended the Ready 2 Read Rendezvous Conference put on by the Montana State Library, a training focused on early literacy support. Speakers provided informative workshops about brain development in children, enhancing storytime programs, and engaging with community partners that have common goals. While this training affirmed many elements we already provide at the Library, learning about how these practices influence children’s brains on a biological level through Dr. Hariette Bailey’s presentation was extremely fascinating to me and worth sharing.
Dr. Bailey emphasized that by age three, 85% of a child’s neurons are developed or ‘wired’, and that proliferation and pruning of dendrites, which carry messages throughout the brain, continues at this rapid rate through age five. This means that the time between birth and age five is absolutely critical to the development of literacy skills. These skills are not just built through reading books to a child, but are nurtured through general interaction, including talking, touching, and responding to them.
There are five key concepts that children should be developing in these early years to help solidify literacy skills and prepare them to be lifelong readers:
- Alphabet knowledge: recognizing letter shapes, names, and sounds.
- Book handling and print concepts: understanding that symbols have meaning and that books have directionality and structure.
- Phonological awareness: being able to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of words and sentences.
- Vocabulary: learning new words and what they mean.
- Social-emotional factors: associating reading with positive experiences and relating the social-emotional experiences of characters to their own lives.
How can parents and caregivers best support these concepts? Dr. Bailey’s suggestions are simple — make sharing books a routine part of every day. Any minutes are better than no minutes. Reading a book doesn’t necessarily mean reading the words — allow your child or yourself to use imagination to extend the story or talk about the pictures. Let your child hold the book and turn the pages, remembering it’s okay to skip some. Always make reading a positive experience, not a punishment or task, and lead by example through being an active reader yourself.
Visit the Youth Area of the Library to select from a wide array of children’s books for all ages and interests that foster early literacy skills and a positive relationship with reading. Additionally, our Books & Babies and PreK-Kinder Storytime programs offer an opportunity to engage with peers in a literacy-supported environment.