PHOENIX – Just because babies can’t talk, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to them. That’s just one tip in a new language and literacy awareness campaign.
“Smart Talk” is a new part of the statewide reading initiative known as Read On Arizona. Its literacy director, Terri Clark, said babies soak up every vocabulary word they hear, so parents should talk to their children as much as possible, using colorful words to narrate the day as they go along. When reading together, she said, ask open-ended questions to stimulate critical thinking.
“So, if you’re reading a book,” she said, “asking the ‘what do you think is going to happen next?’ That’s not a yes or no question, right? And it really does help them to make a few more connections than they might if you just ask them, ‘Do you like this book or not?’ ”
The program recommends that parents respond to their child’s cues – so, for example, when a baby starts staring at a toy, describe it to help him or her learn new words.
Clark said research shows it takes eight years to make a strong reader, starting from birth, so parents shouldn’t wait until their child starts school to begin reading together.
“When you do Smart Talk or you sit with your child and read a book, you’re building that bond,” she said, “and that helps their brain make some great connections that set them up well for when they enter kindergarten.”
The Smart Talk program is spreading on social media and offers brochures and posters to reach parents in schools, medical clinics, day-care centers and other businesses. More information is online at ReadOnArizona.org.