Remember nursery rhymes? Did you know they are a vitally important element in teaching a child to read? Neither did I but the National Institute of Health made it their business to find out.
Back in 1997 Congress charged the NIH with the responsibility of finding out how a human child learns to read. Pretty weighty stuff, huh? Why did Congress get involved in finding out how kids learn to read? Because, my dear friends, the United States of America hit the wall and it wasn't pretty.
We as a nation fell to the bottom of the heap on the world scale of literacy. Yep, hard to believe but believe it because it is the ugly truth. One of the richest, at that point of time anyway, countries on earth with guaranteed free education for all had quickly turned into a nation of reading dunces. The Powers That Be weren't too happy about this sad state of affairs. It was embarrassing. It was dangerous. After all, how could the USA remain a global super power if its general population was illiterate?
It makes for fascinating reading: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/nrp/upload/smallbook_pdf.pdf
What the NIH surprisingly found out was this: a child must be able to hear every sound within a spoken word. These sounds are called phonemes. Nursery rhymes, it turns out, are a sort of aerobic work out for the ear and brain to connect with phonemes, developing something called phonemic awareness. Without it, a child doesn't stand a chance.
So start clapping. Start singing. Start reading nursery rhymes the minute they are born. Babies love the sing song sound of nursery rhymes. Mothers naturally talk to their infants in a sing song voice, no matter what the language. Get with it. Don't let Barney do all the work.
If your child is older, don't worry. There are many rhyming games to play, starting with the very basic. You say "Bat", I say "Hat". Keep going until you are blue in the face. Rhyme everything.
Clap apart words. Clapping sets up a child to hear syllables. We need to hear syllables to help us sound out new words. Get clapping. Clap the child's name. Everyone's and anything's name. Clap clap clap.
And get your child a hearing test.
If you have a child prone to ear and sinus infections, they may have missed out hearing words clearly and consistently during crucial developmental stages. It's not the end of the world. Bring your concerns to your doctor and do not take "No" for an answer. The goal is to rule out the obvious.
Speech pathologists and audiologists are specialists which deal specifically with these challenges. If you are without health insurance, check local school districts and county clinics. It is vital to get any hearing and/or speech problem fixed as soon as possible. There are also computer programs which target phonemic awareness in a game format.
#1 Nursery Rhymes. Lots and lots of nursery rhymes.
#2 Rhyming games.
#3 Clapping games.