Children today grow up in a world of stuff. Toys and things become stuff when they are in excess, when they have no intrinsic purpose in the daily life of the child and when the child ceases to show any interest in them. Stuff takes up room. Stuff collects dust. Stuff leaves no space for growth.

As a Mom of a 7 year old, I know about stuff. It’s in my house. It’s a constant battle that I am determined to win. We buy our baby every hanging thing, musical thing, fluffy thing and rattling thing.

We buy our toddler battery-operated thing-a-majigs, button-activated fuzzy companions and talking devices with distorted voices.

We buy our preschooler plastic alphabet pseudo-learning games, computer gizmos, everything with cartoon characters, confining coloring books and time-consuming DVDs and videos.

We buy our kindergartner palm-sized, finger-pushing, eye-straining video mind-wasters, more computer gizmos, everything with action/movie characters and sets of pre-packaged, non-creative games that quickly lose their audience.

Hopefully, in the midst of all of this stuff, we introduce our growing child to classical music, museums and libraries. We buy blocks, puzzles, shapes and color manipulatives, special pal dolls and stuffed animals that become part of the family, and plain paper for drawing. These are the best early learning tools that will stimulate thinking and creativity. They are basic and simple, and are not classified as stuff.

Of course, we buy books. We read daily to our child. We have established a growing library.

But it’s time to evaluate our decisions and choices as parents when stuff— – even books -— consumes our child’s life to the exclusion of a self-motivated interest in reading with comprehension and application, healthy socialization behavior and creative conversation and play. We must begin to consider the needs of our child and the importance of developmental priorities.

A crying baby is a needy baby. Stuff can’t do anything for a crying baby. Stuff does not provide a baby with the sound/word associations that will satisfy the need for emotional comfort and relief even though the baby’s physical necessities have been met. Visual, tactile and auditory parental responses afford the baby a secure, controlled world in which to grow, develop a sense of self and acquire new skills. Reading requires the use of the senses. Since the baby’s only job is to utilize his senses, reading readiness actually begins in infancy.

One of my clients from Beverly Hills, whose daughter Brittany is now 12 years old, used to have a saying which sums up the philosophy of my early childhood reading readiness programs My Little Reader™: “Make reading fun and start from day one.” She understood the need to establish a reading readiness foundation early on in infancy. Today, Brittany is a strong, avid reader thanks to this advice.

The quality of time and interchange that the parent shares with the infant provides the necessary foundation for the baby’s developing senses and understanding of all that surrounds him. Stuff bought to entertain or soothe the baby will never take the place of a parent’s calming voice, gentle touch and a loving, peaceful home environment.

As the baby develops physically, the information that he receives through his senses helps him adapt to his expanding universe. The crib is no longer only for lying and sleeping. Now it provides a space for sitting, standing, playing and testing newly-found physical powers to include the use of fine motor skills such as grasping and holding. As these abilities and experiences increase, expanding vocabulary helps the baby to understand all that he is and all that is in relation to himself.

The key to reading readiness for the infant is the parent’s use of associative and explanatory words within the context of all the senses. Correct pronunciation of letter sounds, well-constructed sentences; vigorous, interactive conversation; and learning by example will provide the baby with a strong foundation on which to build reading readiness skills in preparation for the toddler years.

As a literacy specialist and educator, I have the opportunity to closely observe interactions between parents and their children. The child whose parent takes the time to involve the child in conversation, speak clearly, listen intently to what the child has to say, respond appropriately, and respect and appreciate the parent-child dialogue, becomes more verbally fluent and communicative, and adapts more readily to the printed and written word.

A New York client, Dorothy Hill, professional working Mom of 4-year-old twins, has realized the importance of dialogue with her children. “When my children were babies, every day after work, I spent individual time with each by reading a book or by just talking”,” says Hill. “Now, I still read to them separately in order to have quality discussion. It is then that I can discover how each comprehends and responds to what is read without interference by the other. This special time also provides the opportunity for sharing of feelings and experiences. It is at these moments that I realize how important words have become a part of my children’s lives.””

As a parent, you will begin to open your child’s world to word associations and joyful enthusiasm to all the wonders that surround your daily life. You will share all that you feel and know with your baby, providing him with the validation that he is a little person with a developing capacity to understand and respond. You will reassure him that what he has to say is always important to you. The words that you will speak will be the words that he will read.

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