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Why Babies Can (and Should) Learn to Read

Early Learning and Baby Brain Development

A baby’s body develops at an incredible pace during the first few years of life, but one of the most amazing aspects of this process is how the brain grows and develops. Between birth and age 3, the human brain goes from a very undeveloped form, weighing only a quarter of its final size to an incredibly complex state through a dramatic growth and development of billions of neurons and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these neural cells. This period of active neural growth is when parents and caregivers can better help their children to get off to a great start and establish strong foundations for life-long learning.

The basic neural connections are created before birth

The basic structure of the brain is formed still during pregnancy. Here, the principal components of the brain develop Synapse xt and take form and the most basic cerebral functions start to organize. However, the vast majority of synapses are not yet formed, so the brain is not capable of the higher complexity that characterizes human cognition, learning and reasoning. These connections arise during the first three to four years, and the architecture of the complex networks of synapses depends in some degree on the child’s interactions with his/her environment and experiences.

The ability to learn languages is hardwired in the baby’s brain

Language is a basic human feature, and the brain of a baby is ready to develop language since the beginning. Studies showed that babies can be stimulated with the sound of their mother’s voices. As soon as they are born and start to interact with their family, the first patterns of the mother tongue are being set by the establishment of million of synaptic connections between specific groups of neurons. At the same time, the brains keeps growing, and the greatest density of neural connections is reached by the age 3. This is very important, since after this age, many of these synapses start to disappear though a process of elimination that brings the density of synapses down to the level we found in a typical adult brain. Considering all this, the conclusion is that the first three to four years after birth are the most critical times for brain development, and in consequence, the period during which the brain has the greatest power to acquire and fix abilities, especially those related to language.

Now, in our society, the process of language acquisition is clearly separated between speech development (learning to talk) and literacy (learning to read and write). The first one arises naturally, almost spontaneously between the first and the third year, but the second is relegated to after the age of five, when most children go to kindergarten or elementary school. Being the ability to talk and read both sides of the same process (language), the natural way to develop it would be at the same time, when the brain is naturally shaped to acquire language.

The consequence of this is that for decades, billions of children have not taken advantage of their best time to learn to read. Children are in fact able to learn to read since infancy, and the benefits of this stay forever. Children who read before entering Kinder perform better in virtually every aspect, both from the academic and social point of view and are more likely to succeed in life than their peers who were illiterate by age five.

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