Reading and Play are the Keys to Brain Development

Did you know that from birth to age 3, children learn and grow at the most intense rate? The early years represent our best chance to help kids develop a strong foundation.

Did you know that from birth to age 3, children learn and grow at the most intense rate? The early years represent our best chance to help kids develop a strong foundation.

Do you want to know how to simultaneously decrease child mistreatment, improve early literacy and increase kindergarten readiness?

"It's simple. Help spread the word about common child development milestones," suggests Michelle Simmons, Healthy Steps child development specialist with North Country HealthCare.

Children begin learning the day they're born. And the earliest years present us with a precious opportunity: eighty percent of brain development occurs before a child is three years old. By the time the child has reached five, ninety percent of their brain has developed. Parents and caregivers serve their children best by creating environments and routines that stimulate brain development.

"Studies have shown that parents who understand why their child is acting in a certain way are 70% more likely to use non-violent discipline techniques. In addition, when parents understand how their child's brain is developing, they are 22% more likely to read picture books with their child on a daily basis. This leads to more children entering kindergarten self-confident and ready to learn," describes Simmons.

Building an environment that stimulates brain development doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. It can be as simple as reading and playing with children during these early, formative years.

Research tells us that children gain significant knowledge of language, reading, and writing long before they ever enter school. Children learn to talk, read, and write through interactive experiences with books, magazines and basic art materials like paper and crayons.

Here are some tips to make the most out of reading:

• Read with your child, not to them. When you hold children and let them play with the pages while you read, they learn that reading can be fun.

• Ask and encourage questions as you read. When you point to pictures in books and ask questions about them, you teach new words. You also help your child communicate with you.

• Make reading playful. A book can be a child's favorite toy. Children love to look at and hold books. They also enjoy participating in telling the story. Through physical and verbal interaction you are helping your child build their language and social skills, and exercise their imagination.

• Play games with words. Sounds are the building blocks of words. Saying words that all start with the same sound help your child identify speech patterns. Rhymes help your child hear how sounds come together to form words. They also help your child learn the rules of language.

Reading isn't the only way to develop your child's brain. The simplest kinds of interactive play can challenge the mind, foster creativity and develop thinking skills.

Here are some ways to make the most out of play:

• Creative, open-ended play. Simple toys lead to more inventive play. For example: through block play, children confront challenges related to measurement, equality, balance, shape, spatial relationships and physical properties. Avoid toys and activities that spell everything out.

• Physical play. Not only is physical play great exercise, but the repetition of basic physical skills helps children master an increasingly difficult series of tasks. They also build confidence and coordination.

• Social and imaginative play (make-believe). Dramatic play helps children explore and understand social roles and acquire social skills as they interact with others. Dramatic play enables children to appreciate each other's needs, values and perspectives. They learn how to express their feelings, use their imaginations, and develop decision-making skills.

• Let your child scribble, draw, and construct. Children learn to think and imagine when they create. The process of making pictures is what matters, not what the pictures look like. Talk about what your child is doing as he creates a picture, and allow him to share the story he's creating.

For more tips and information on healthy early childhood development visit ReadyAZKids.com or azftf.gov.

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