In our past blog, we discussed one of the two best predictors of later reading achievement, an awareness of letter sounds, based on the research of Dr. Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University.
Today we will look at the second predictor, an ability to rapidly name objects.
Do you remember the story of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf child, who with the help of a gifted teacher, Annie Sullivan, learned to read and speak? Her progress began when one day she recognized that water has a name. From that “Eureka!” moment, Helen realized that everything has a name.
A toddler goes through the same process of learning that everything has a name. This happens at about 18 months when various parts of the child’s brain work in sync to integrate concepts. First, the child names concrete things (what we call nouns), such as Mom, Dad, cat, and dog. Every day the child adds new words, many of which come from the books read to him.
A little later, a child begins to name letters. This activity is sophisticated. The child realizes that those abstract shapes we call letters mean something. One time my friend offered a two-year-old a small stuffed animal which she had received at a fast food restaurant. The toddler looked at the tag on the toy and said, “Chick-fil-A.” Of course he couldn’t read, but he recognized the familiar shape of the letters on the red background.
Learning to recognize letters and numbers and to give them names is the beginning of reading. Here is how you can help a child learn to name things.
- Play “Simon Says” so that the child learns her body parts.
- Play “I see something. . .blue” so that the child needs to name objects in the room, in the car or in the grocery store.
- Teach your child the ABC song, making sure she eventually learns that “elemeno” is actually four separate letters.
- Point to familiar letters in unfamiliar places, such as the first letter of the child’s name in a sign or on a cereal box.
- Read to your child. For the youngest children, let them absorb the pictures and name objects in the pictures. For three-year-olds and up, read the words, using your finger to point to the words as you read.
For a well-prepared child, reading doesn’t begin in school. It begins years before.