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Every so often in our 2.5-year old daughter's life I catch myself marveling at some skill that our daughter seems to master far beyond what I naively expected her to be able to do. I'm sure many parents have this experience.

One of my fears is that by using my own judgement rather than hers, I am not furthering her natural development as much as I could, be it in encouraging her or be it by educating myself about the subject and gently teaching her to develop her abilities. Reading seems to be one such area.

She aptly recognizes the letters in her name and loves sitting with me at a text editor and pecking out letters at the keyboard on the laptop. This goes for about 10 minutes at a time. When suggesting writing letters on paper with a pen, she's initially excited but then wants me to do it, her fine motor skills are not there yet.

I'm worried about discouraging her subtly. She loves books and we read a lot of them. What's the right way to further this ability? I'm not interested in pushing her in any particular direction, I'm interested in exposing her to the right opportunities and ideas and letting her take the lead.

I should also mention she's being raised bilingually, German/English.

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    I loved this question -- good for you. You've found your answer, and it's good. I'd add that you can use materials you have on hand to augment fine motor. Plasticine can be shaped into letters, numbers and geometric shapes. You can draw in sand or fingerpaint. Treat life like a buffet. She won't like everything, but she gets to try a little bit of anything. Come back and re-visit things/subjects over the years. (I used to hate peas -- now they are my favourite.) Many children's shows and documentaries are good stepping stones to finding interests. Also -- show your own enthusiasm for learning. – WRX Mar 2 '17 at 15:06
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This may not be the most scholarly article devoted to the subject, but it has been borne out again and again in well-developed studies: reading to your child id one of the most beneficial activities one can do with children after the obvious basics (food/shelter/love).

Above and beyond the child gaining confidence that she matters to you (because of the time spent interacting with her), reading helps

  • to build a higher aptitude for learning in general
  • basic speech skills
  • to teach the basics of how to read a book (left to right, etc.)
  • to teach better communication skills
  • to teach mastery of language
  • to teach more logical thinking skills
  • to teach enhanced concentration and discipline
  • to teach that reading and learning is fun

Please read the article for more details and tips on how and what kind of books to read. It can't be emphasized enough: one of the most important things you can do to positively influence future ability is to read, read, read to your children.

When suggesting writing letters on paper with a pen, she's initially excited but then wants me to do it, her fine motor skills are not there yet.

Exactly. Fine motor skills are too underdeveloped at that age for her to writing her letters well. Let her advance in this area at her own pace. Blend activities that teach recognition of letters (their names), the sounds they make (there are many books and articles on now to approach this), etc. If she wants to write them, think big because little is only going to frustrate her. For example, have her write letters in a sandbox (you can make one for this purpose with a shallow pan and some sand). This allows her to write using the shoulder girdle muscles, with which she is quite competent. Or a fat magic marker and a white erase board. But don't let it become work. Let her lead. Or fat chalk on the sidewalk, etc.

At some point, nature becomes vary interesting: insects and other animals, the properties of matter, etc.* Nature walks are easy and fun, and can foster a life-long love of science. Basically have fun and plenty of activities with her (even television was a group activity.)

If you want to educate her in a variety of subjects, you'll have to educate yourself. It can't be helped. But it's loads of fun, and I never felt as educated as when I was teaching my children (I took it to the extreme: we homeschooled until high school.) My life was enriched greatly, and my children did very well in school. I would have done a few things differently, but that's another story.

*I started teaching the properties of matter well before kindergarten. A solid (baking soda) and a liquid (vinegar) can produce a gas which can snuff out candles or blow up balloons! Something invisible that can do things is just like magic to young children.

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    Wow. Great answer! Thanks @anongoodnurse! – Wolfram Arnold Mar 2 '17 at 6:05
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I think anongoodnurse's answer is excellent, and I just want to supplement it by pointing to some research on ways to support early pre-reading skills. Most of the research on this topic is with children older than your daughter (3-6yrs, usually). But age means a lot less than her own interest and ability, so if you feel like she's engaged and ready then there's no reason you should wait until she hits some arbitrary normed age.

In particular, I want to draw your attention to research on the development of "phonemic awareness", one of the earliest and most important skills for later reading and writing. Phonemic awareness is basically just the realization that language is make up of units of sound --- for example, noticing that the same kind of noise happens at the beginning of the words "sound" and "see", and the end of the word "cakes" (I'm referring to the "s" noise).

Here is a great overview of phonemic awareness written for parents and teachers of young children. It's written by a researcher, but the writing is very clear and approachable (I wish all scientific papers were this palatable!). She provides an excellent description of what phonemic awareness is and lots of examples of what you might notice in your child as he/she develops phonemic awareness as well as what you can do to support it.

Dr. Wasik (the author of the paper cited above) mentions relevant studies, and provides the references for them at the end of the article --- if you want to learn more about the details of this research, look for some of those papers. For example, she cites several studies showing that particular kinds of reading experiences and language games can be especially helpful for developing phonemic awareness: stories with lots of obvious patterns in the speech sounds are great, like rhyming or alliteration, as are nursery rhymes, songs, and jingles. Some classic kids games are actually great phonemic awareness practice, such as the "I like to eat apples and bananas" song. Here's a link to the text of Fox in Sox by Dr. Seuss It's fun and silly, and just bursting with fantastic speech highlighting the phonemes! See how much a passage like this can make a particular speech sound stick out:

Luke Luck likes lakes.

Luke's duck likes lakes.

Luke Luck licks lakes.

Luck's duck licks lakes.

Duck takes licks in lakes Luke Luck likes.

Luke Luck takes licks in lakes duck likes.

Have fun! :)

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