You don't have to wait till your baby is older to teach him or her how to read and recognise words.
This was the advice given by Dr. Robert Titzer, an infant researcher and professor from the United States with over 15 years of experience.
Dr. Titzer was in town last week for an Early Learning Workshop as well as to promote his series of learning DVDs titled Your Baby Can Read.
Mrs Vanessa Shee, a 35-year-old medical product manager, said: "Dr. Titzer's DVDs really works."
She was there with three-year-old son Alastair. She began using Dr Titzer's DVDs to teach baby Alastair the rudimentaries of language when he was only three months old.
She added: "Alastair can now read instruction menus for his newly-bought toys. He even reads the Today newspaper while we read The Straits Times, and he is able to sum up the key points for a story to us."
Held at the Island Cafe at Tangs Orchard, the workshop demonstrated how multi-sensory learning enables babies as young as nine-months old to read, using the television as a learning aid.
Dr Titzer shares these tips with Asiaone readers to help them tap into their children's natural window of opportunity in the first five years of life and spur his/her learning development.
Begin as soon as you can
- An early start helps to build a better foundation for future learning. The earlier your child is taught to read, the more your child can hold his/her advantage in reading skills, and over time, tends to do better in school.
- Infants have tens of thousands of new brain connectors forming every single second. Engage them in multi-sensory learning as much as possible.
- Babies should be exposed to words as early as in their second and third month, as soon as they get visual tracking - which is the ability to follow moving objects.
Multi-sensory learning: talk, respond, action
- Every living being acquires language, written or spoken, through understanding, talking or signing, and reading written languages.
- Your child's vocabulary is based on how much the child was spoken to early in life. Simply talking to your baby in proper words and sentences helps in his/her learning process.
- Use simple, descriptive language - for example, you can describe all of the baby's senses to him/her in terms of what he/she is touching, smelling, tasting, or looking at.
- Align yourself with your baby's perspective and talk about the things he/she might be interested in, together with gestures.
- A useful tip is to play games with your baby in front of the mirror so they can watch you and themselves in action.
- As the first 50 words babies encounter take the longest for them to absorb, it is wise to repeat simple words over and over for at least a month. Also, use hundreds of new words every week to optimise the learning experience for your child. Adults usually use certain words over and over, but they don't incorporate other infrequent words in spoken language.
- Read to your child - get books with pictures and a few words on the page. Point out the words to your toddler while reading aloud.
- Babies are attracted to high-pitch voices, so over-enunciate and exaggerate word sounds.
- Expose your baby to the environment outside your home. You can teach your baby new things when you bring him/her out shopping.
Let your baby talk
- The lack of tongue and mouth control at the early stage of life prevent infants from expressing themselves properly. Hence they are only able to spout the usual goo-goos gaa-gaas as their first sounds. But do let your baby "talk".
- Encourage vocalisations by responding to your baby's talk - repeat what he/she has come up with ("You said ooh!") and get all excited and happy. It will strengthen the baby's will to speak more.
- Limit the use of pacifiers and pay attention to the sounds your baby makes. Reinforce these baby talk with similar language sounds to teach your child the proper words.
- Even though babies have yet to pick up a spoken language, you can ask them simple questions like "Where is your nose?" and they can point the answers out to you.
- You don't have to teach your child the rules of the language - grammar, plural, past tense, etc - infants and toddlers pick up patterns of languages over time.
- If your child is reserved in verbal expression, you can try using a microphone (suitable for kids) to encourage him/her to speak.
- See a speech specialist (and not your family pediatrician) when your toddler is not speaking a word at age two. Look out on your own to check if there are problems with your child and get help early.
Learning a second language
- Bilingualism is common here in Singapore, and babies who learn two languages take at least six months longer to master a language.
- When teaching two languages to your child, do not mix different languages within a sentence. Also, do not assign one parent to speak one language to a child. It might cause confusion to your baby, and he/she might only speak one language to each parent in the future.
Your Baby Can Read! is the first video series in the world designed to help babies, toddlers, and preschoolers learn to read. It is now available at Playground at TANGS Orchard Level 4, from $15.90 to $99.00.