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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Reading and Your Child

This is Dr. Stuart Marcovitch from UNCG’s DUCK lab and MDLab. Thanks to all children and parents who have been helping us out over the years – feel free to check out our websites at http://www.uncg.edu/~s_marcov/ and http://www.uncg.edu/~mdlab/

We all know that reading to your young children is important, and should be a daily event. But how old should your children be when they start reading by themselves? For years, many researchers believed that earlier is better, and there is a lot of truth to that statement. Early reading opens up a whole new world of cognitive exploration where children can think about and manipulate ideas on their own. It also makes the transition into school easier, providing a slight advantage to those children who are learning to read for the first time in the classroom.

But is there such a thing as reading too early? The answer, it appears, is yes. Nature has provided your children with a built-in mechanism to focus on information that will help them develop appropriately while ignoring the irrelevant information that will slow them down. For example, when learning a new word - say, the word “doggie” – children have the natural tendency to think that doggie refers to the animal and not a part of the animal (say, the tail), the actions of the animal (say, barking), nor the context the animal is in (say, the doghouse). When it comes to reading, forcing a child to do it before she is cognitively able to do so may redirect valuable resources away from the natural learning that is supposed to be taking place in other domains.

What are parents to do? Exposing children to written language in the first two years of life is useful, as it teaches children about the superficial used of words and meanings. But trying to get your 18-month-old to read these words (as some companies are peddling) is not helpful – there is no evidence that it will lead to better reading skills. Rather, once your child has amassed an impressive vocabulary (usually older than three years of age), slowly introducing letter sounds (starting with the child’s name is a great first step) and blends can be a fun activity. After that, follow your child’s lead. If she is ready to learn more, she will enthusiastically approach future lessons. If she gets disinterested or frustrated, then she is not yet ready (which is perfectly normal, as different skills develop at different times for different children) and you can try again in a month. Your child will still enjoy the time interacting with you, and of course will still love her bedtime stories!


Located in the Eberhart Building, the DUCK Lab and Memory Development Lab (MDLaB: Memory Development Learning and Brain) are a non-profit research center dedicated to the study of children’s cognitive and social development.  We welcome parents and children to participate in our studies, all of which are presented as fun games for children. We provide free parking, treats, prizes, and coffee for parents, and we are available at your convenience. Please contact us at childdev@uncg.edu or 336-256-0048 for more information and also see previous GSOFamilies posts http://www.gsofamilies.com/2014/07/uncg-memory-development-lab-and-duck.html and  http://www.gsofamilies.com/2014/12/navigating-holidays-with-young-children.html

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