We think reading is something we learn when we go to school as little kids. But the reality is reading and learning to read begins as soon as we are born. The act itself isn’t a single-faceted task. It consists of multiple skills working together.
Reading is like the cause and the result of many developmental processes. One of these processes includes healthy brain development. The ability to read is specific to human beings, and most kids start reading by the time they turn 7.
However, until that final stretch of acquisition of the reading skills, there are many processes in the brain and cognitive development department that the kid needs to tackle first.
According to Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, 90% of brain development happens between birth and age 5. That is a lot of development in such a short period of time.
In the developing brain, certain neural pathways are formed in certain sequences. When the child is first born, the sensory pathways start to develop first. Then language follows and finally, cognitive pathways are created.
Evolutionarily, there is no reading network hardwired in the brain. We, the humans, invented this skill. Starting from the time we were born, we are able to adapt certain parts of our brains that are responsible for live vision and language for other functions.
Through exposure to and practice of reading, these parts are gradually integrated to develop literacy skills. In order for a child to be able to read, several neurological functions must be in order.
Primarily the visual processing and phonological processing regions in the brain should work properly. And that is not enough to complete the act.
There are certain fiber bundles that connect these regions for them to help them work together and to create the “reading network”.
For instance, one of these bundles of fibers is responsible for connecting the back of the reading network, where the sounds are matched with their written counterparts, to the reading fluency and comprehension.
When these connections are not made or poorly made or are not as strong, kids may have dyslexia. Recent studies have proven the positive effect of reading to kids starting from early childhood on brain development.
A child’s brain evolves and changes as they learn to read. Thus, being exposed to reading and having a lot of reading practices starting from early in life will help the brain be more receptive to acquiring the skills that are necessary and base for reading.
When Do Kids Start Reading?
Development occurs at varying rates for every child. Around the age of 7, typically, most children learn to read. However, reading doesn’t just happen out of thin air. In fact, it is not a single skill development.
For a child to be able to read, many skills should come together, starting from birth. There are many milestones children hit as they grow through ages.
Early literacy skills and milestones are closely related to childhood developmental milestones.
From birth until the age of 1, children typically:
- Understand the connection between sounds and meaning
- Learn to pay attention to a person or an object
- Have a vocabulary of around 50 words or more
- Can turn the pages of a book with help from parents.
Toddlers between the ages of 1 to 3 can typically:
- Pretend reading books
- Answer questions about the objects in the book
- Have a favorite book they want to read
- Recognize books by their covers
Early preschool-aged children typically begin to:
- Retell a story they are familiar with
- Be able to listen to longer books when they are read aloud
- Recognize the difference between writing and drawing
- Pretend to read a book aloud even if they can’t
Related: This is a great time to pep-up your child’s vocabulary. Simple, easy to follow tips go a long way in enriching your child’s word bank.
Around the ages of 4 to 5, children are typically able to
- Recognize rhyming words
- Name some letters
- Write their names
- Understand how printed letters are read (from left to right, top to bottom for English)
- Recognize the connection between letters, sounds, and words
- See familiar words in books
- Grasp the meaning of some words
- Write some numbers, letters, and words
- Identify the five Ws in a story
- Retell the sequence of events in a story that is read to them
- Predict what will or can happen next in a given story
Related: Early Reader Books are wonderful at helping young kids build their reading skills. They are easy and yet challenging enough to motivate your young learner to read.
Around the ages of 6 to 7, children are typically able to:
- Decode words that are not familiar to them
- Use context to deduce the meaning of unfamiliar words
- Recognize and self-correct when they make a mistake while reading
- Read familiar stories
Related: Try introducing your kids to poetry. This age is just right for kids to understand simple poems and even make their own poems, when encouraged properly.
Around the ages of 7 to 8, children can usually:
- Spell many words correctly and use correct punctuation
- Read books that are longer unassisted
- Use new words they have heard or learned
- Use correct emphasis when reading aloud
Related: Reading is great tool to open minds. Choose what your kids read wisely and pick a nice blend of fiction as well as inspiring non-fiction books for kids to broaden your child’s mind.
How Does Reading to Kids Help With Early Literacy Skills & Brain Development
When we think about it, until the industrial revolution, a big portion of the population could not read. This goes to show again that our brains did not evolve in such a way that we could learn to read as we do with spoken language.
That is why we have to acquire many skills and develop and wire our brains in such a way that we can read. Parents are always advised to read to their children and there is a good reason for that.
Through MRI scans, a study found that when kids are read aloud, the parts of their brains that process words and form meaning actually light up with activity. Regularly reading to your child starting from the very beginning of their lives will help make these connections stronger.
Another study conducted in 2013 revealed that babies who are read aloud to and talked to scored higher in many aspects, such as cognitive development like problem-solving and language skills.
Other research findings point to the connection between a young child’s higher language and IQ scores and the verbal interactions of the parents and the kids.
Reading to your child starting from early on doesn’t only help with cognitive brain development but also open up different worlds to children.
In addition to the obvious benefits of non-fiction books teaching children concepts and objects, fiction books provide children with a plane where they can think outside the box about the elements in the book.
This in turn develops and expands their imagination. Books also help children be exposed to vocabulary that they would not be exposed to in daily conversations.
While setting up a scene, detailed descriptions of places and people teach children descriptive words, and the more they are read aloud these words the better they absorb them.
A study conducted in 2019 made an estimation that there could be a 1.4 million word difference between the vocabulary of children who were read aloud until kindergarten and children who weren’t read to in this time period until they are 5.
How to help Develop Kids’ Reading & Associated Skills
Everyone wants their children to be developing happy and healthy. During wellness appointments at the doctor, often times the reading skill can be overlooked by parents as they may be more focused on the physical health and wellbeing of their child.
However, when parents know more about how their baby’s brain develops, they become more open and are more inclined to provide an environment that will foster the cognitive and intellectual development and growth of their baby.
That is why parents and caregivers arming themselves with knowledge about brain development and the importance of reading is so crucial.
There are countless benefits of reading aloud to children, both in terms of helping them develop the skill and their brain development.
Here are a couple of ways to promote reading and associated skills while also boosting healthy brain development.
Make It a Habit
The best way to ensure that these skills are developed and the necessary brain wiring is done is to incorporate reading into your daily routine. You can read to your child before bedtime, or designate certain evenings of the week as reading days.
The idea here is that starting early on, your child will be reading books and reaping the benefits, while also gaining the habit of reading so that they can continue this beneficial cycle once they acquire the skill.
When they are little, try to steer towards books that are bright and with lots of images. Talk to your child about what is happening in the book, about the design and the pictures, and try to engage them.
Model The Behaviour
Children mimic those around them. One of the best ways to engage them into reading and making reading a habit is to model the behavior.
If your kid sees you reading in the evenings, they will most likely want to read or be read aloud also. Pick up a book when you know they will see it, or engage them in a conversation about what you are reading to get them excited.
Doing this on a regular basis will allow for your child to be familiar with books enough to want to read on their own.
Make a Game Out Of It
Games make almost everything fun and engaging. You can also gamify the reading experience! One of the reading games you can play is a scavenger hunt for words.
Pick up one of your child’s favorite books and make a list of words that are scattered in the book. You can also pick ones that you feel like your child is struggling with.
Once you have the list, instruct your child to try and pick up the words when you read aloud. This will increase their attention span, and they will have so much fun while also learning new words and picking up new skills.