The Basics: Brain cells, or neurons, communicate with one another through connections called synapses. Strings of neurons and synapses form roads or pathways through which information flows. In infancy and early childhood, these neural pathways – similar to highway systems – become highly developed.
As the child matures, information highways that are well-traveled expand, mapping the way for the individual to become more proficient in those skills. Information highways less traveled make communication between neurons more difficult. On those less-traveled roads of information and experience, the individual is less able.
Think about your own strengths and weaknesses. If you are uncomfortable in social settings, it may be because when you were a young child, your experiences interacting with people were either negative or limited. Those neural pathways never strengthened, therefore you still find social settings stressful. Your social-interaction road is bumpy on its less-traveled neural path. In contrast, your exceptional artistic ability may have been influenced by your exposure to spatial relationships, color, intensity, tone, value, hue, and creative experiences amid positive emotion, when you were young. These neural pathways are now sophisticated, intricate superhighways.
Born to Read: With this in mind (no pun intended), how do we help young children form well-developed neural pathways for literacy? Enabling a child to become a proficient reader begins in infancy with the development of neural pathways about language.
Studies show that infants whose parents talk to them more frequently will develop a greater awareness of language patterns, timing, linguistic rhythms, and a large, though yet unspoken, vocabulary. As young children become skilled in manipulating language, they learn to listen for and identify the characteristic nuances contained in the language.
Becoming aware of letter sounds (phonemic awareness), emphasis on one syllable over another, pitch, and volume, all contribute to the development of oral language skills … and all add to the strengthening of the neural language highway. When a child achieves reading readiness and begins to make the transition from oral language to written language, it is upon this foundational knowledge base – through these neural language highways – that he develops the skills for reading.
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