Article provided by National Library Board

Giving your child a head start

PHOTOS: NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD

In today’s fiercely competitive world, parents want nothing more than to pave the way for their children’s success. And there is much that they can do to nurture their children’s development from a young age. 

Dr Ng Ee Lynn, a research scientist at the National Institute of Education had a fruitful talk with Ms Sandra Davie, The Straits Times’ senior education correspondent, on the ways parents can foster positive mindsets and attitudes – like curiosity and a love for reading – which will carry their children through to working life.

Cultivate a love for reading

From reading periods and book fairs in school to national reading campaigns, the message is clear: Reading is important, and there is no lack of evidence to support this.

Ms Davie highlights an ongoing British Cohort Study, which follows more than 17,000 people who were born in 1970 and tracks various aspects of their development – from physical to academic. It found that people from the same social background who read a book more than once a week, at age 10, scored better results in a range of cognitive tests, when they were age 16, than those who did not. Researchers also found a link between reading and greater intellectual progress in vocabulary, spelling and surprisingly, mathematics. The study concluded that reading’s impact on a child’s general progress was four times greater than having a degree-holder as a parent.

However, instead of rushing out to buy the latest bestsellers or recommended books, parents should first take the cue from their children. Dr Ng says it is important to recognise and respond to children’s level of comfort and their current skills when trying to teach them new skills. She advises letting them choose the titles that interest them.

Parents may also want to stock up on printed books instead of e-books as research has shown that printed books are more beneficial to children. While e-books may offer convenience, interactivity and a plethora of extra content like songs and animation, these serve as a distraction. Thus, one’s “mental muscles” – like imagination, visualisation and critical thinking – could be undermined.

In due time, parents can slowly widen their children’s scope with new, different topics. The aim is to cultivate a love for reading and not turn it into a dreaded chore. As Dr Ng puts it, “When children feel safe, they are more likely to want to explore.”

Build a rich and comfortable learning environment at home

On that note, parents should strive to make their homes a conducive environment for learning. Start by having simple learning activities with your children to expose them to various concepts and inspire curiosity and an eagerness to learn.

Anything can be turned into a learning opportunity. Dr Ng cites a simple experiment involving two jars with different water levels, where children can decide how many marbles to plonk in to make the water overflow. Parents can engage their children in conversation and have them predict what will happen. Fun aside, higher parental engagement has also been shown to increase numeracy and mother tongue skills, among others. 

Dr Ng emphasises that the idea is to create a rich learning environment. Parents do not need to “become teachers”. All they have to do is to ensure a safe space where learning and exploring are encouraged. She adds, “It’s the interaction between the parent and the child that’s important… You can also take the lead from your child. Find out what they’re interested in.” 

Here are some books to help you maximise your children’s learning and development:

1. The Whole-Brain Child (2011)

By Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/559892

Neuropsychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson collaborated to produce a revolutionary book on child development. Using 12 key strategies, this book details how to raise your child right and nurture their development – from emotional to intellectual – to their fullest potential. Get an in-depth understanding of the reasons behind your child’s behaviour as you learn to work with them instead of against them.

2. The Real Play Revolution (2019)

By Ash Perrin

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/4470881 

Want to get the kids away from their phones? Ash Perrin, founder of the Flying Seagull Project charity that brings happiness to children, recommends that you start your own D.I.Y. play sessions. With play ideas and techniques galore, parents can learn to embrace silliness and fun with their children through everyday household items. 

3. UNPLUGGED PLAY: PRESCHOOL (2020)

By Bobbi Conner

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/4906062 

If you are not the most creative person when it comes to imaginative play, this is the book for you. Unplugged Play: Preschool features 263 screen-free activities and games to keep children engaged. Whether it’s outdoors or indoors, solo or group, there is a fun idea in here for every child.

4. The montessori toddler (2019)

By Simone Davies

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/4264699

Based on principles developed by educator Maria Montessori, this book will change the way you view your toddler. From building a more conducive set-up at home to adjusting your parenting methods, the advice here will make going through the terrible twos (and threes) easier.

5. Unschooled (2019)

By Kerry McDonald and Peter Gray

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/4760820

For those who do not believe education is synonymous with formal schooling or standardised tests, this book shows you how to keep children’s curiosity alive and encourage self-directed learning by fostering a dynamic learning environment at home.

6. Just Read! (2020)

By Lori Degman

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/5181125

Struggling to get your children to crack open a book? Try Just Read!, a diverse and colourful book about children who love to read. With beautiful illustrations, parents can showcase the wonders and joys of reading. Jump into the wide world of reading not just books, but also music sheets, Braille and even road signs.

7. Reading together (2009)

By Diane W. Frankenstein

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/277704

Education consultant Diane W. Frankenstein shares a secret: Guiding children to find an appropriate book and talking with them about the story helps them connect with what they read. Reading Together is an all-encompassing guide to becoming your child’s favourite storyteller. Filled with other tips and examples, spreading the love for reading to children has never been easier.

8. Reading Picture books with children (2015)

By Megan Dowd Lambert, Laura Vaccaro Seeger and Chris Raschka

E-book available at: https://nlb.overdrive.com/media/2202060

With experts at the helm, Reading Picture Books with Children teaches how to properly and effectively read picture books with children. This book provides examples for parents using classic picture books like The Three Little Pigs and The Polar Express. Turn the usual passive experience into a fun exercise for children to work on their critical thinking skills.

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