By Tzvetelina Sabkova
Mathilde Cerioli is the co-founder of Fly Little Dragon, a community of experts and parents who share tips, tools, and toys to help children learn while having fun. Mathilde’s PhD focused on how games can improve children’s cognition. She has been working in the Neuroscience field since 2009.
What does Neuroscience tell us about how our children learn to read?
Reading happens mostly in the left hemisphere of the brain, where the language is located. At first, reading is like seeing any other visual input. It then quickly moves to an area which concerns the recognition of letters, called the “letterbox”. This is where our brain stores all the letter representations.
To complete the reading process the letterbox connects with two other parts of the brain, one that is related to the meaning of the word and another which concerns pronunciation.
Therefore to learn how to read, children need to develop their letterbox area, then create connections with the parts of the brain which process meaning and pronunciation.
My child sometimes writes letters backward. Why is that?
Prior to learning how to read, the letterbox is responsible for broader object and face recognition. This area has a symmetry function that enables us to recognize a face or an object, no matter its orientation. However, once we begin to learn how to read, this ability becomes detrimental. The brain needs to “unlearn” this process since the orientation of letters actually matters (think about b, d, p, q!). This mechanism explains why kids tend to do mirror writing. If you see your children writing R like this Я, it does not mean they have dyslexia, it is a normal phase of brain development.
Most children will outgrow mirror writing by the end of second grade.
How can I create a positive reading environment in the home?
A great way to support children’s interest in books and reading is to model behavior. Children love imitating their parents. Have you ever seen your toddler walking around the room pretending to speak on the phone? Including books in our own daily routine can help foster a natural interest in reading as a ‘grown-up’ activity (recipe books, manuals, and magazines all count!). Also, try to make sure books are present in the child’s environment and easy to access.
Children love spending time with their parents and reading is a great way to be together and to connect.
Even when they can read independently kids enjoy this bonding time.
Some children can refrain from reading by themselves because they feel like they will lose these precious moments. So it’s a good idea to reassure them by keeping this time set aside even when they are becoming independent readers.
Another way to encourage independent reading is to invite older kids to read to their younger siblings. Younger children will not correct mistakes as a parent or an educator might do. This helps the reader to become less self-aware and supports implicit learning for younger children.
How can I harness neuroscience to help my child’s path to reading?
With the current Covid-19 situation many schools are unsure of their reopening timelines, which leaves parents facing the sometimes daunting task of navigating homeschooling. Here are a few suggestions for simple but effective games and activities:
- Rhyming games develop the imagination and help improve reading skills, allowing children to practice phonics. You can use easy sentences like “The cat was eating a fish and he didn’t use a…” the child needs to find a word to end the sentence (dish).
- The finding words game. Pick a letter before you go outside and then spot everything that starts with this letter. Don’t forget to pick a letter too, it’s a great way to model what your child should do!
- The Sight Words Workbookdeveloped by the experts at Fly Little Dragon based on Dolch words list. Sight words represent 50% to 70% of what we read. Recognizing these words fast saves a lot of energy and allows children to focus on learning new words.
- The Marboticlearning experience. Kids manipulate high-quality wooden letters and numbers while using an interactive app. It is a great combination of fun activities and academic content.
- Read with your children. Here are some tips to make Reading with Your Child Fun and Relaxing.
There’s so much to get done! Do you have any tips about scheduling?
Plan physical activities in the late morning and save the screen time for later in the day. If you have more demanding lessons, earlier is better in terms of focus. You can try to adapt to your child’s rhythm: when can they focus and when do they struggle?
Be flexible. Young children start losing focus after spending 15 minutes on a demanding activity. If they seem to lose interest, try something different, or switch to an outside activity.
Quality over quantity! Homeschooled kids usually work two to four hours per day. With one-on-one attention, this is equivalent to around six hours of class time.
How are you feeling about the challenges of the upcoming school year?