Listen up. I'm getting on my soapbox and waving my hands around. If you want your baby to learn to read easily, buy a rear-facing pram/stroller. I'm absolutely convinced of it.
Scandinavians love the rear-facing pram. It might be a coincidence but I also have the feeling that it’s part of the bedrock beneath their best-in-the-world education system. Do you know why?
Because babies and toddlers who ride facing their parent/carer have much more face-to-face time with an adult, and therefore a much larger vocabulary by the time they reach school than kids who ride in forward-facing prams (who frankly look utterly bored).
It's not just that I witnessed the better language development of my own kids with a rear-facing pram. Patricia Kuhl's research (watch her TED talk here) shows that babies learn language ONLY through face-to-face experience with a live person. They do not learn language from a person on television or a static object (they tested showing a teddy bear while playing Mandarin to English-speaking babies). That means babies and toddlers are learning nothing when they’re in the forward-facing pram.
But young children in rear-facing prams have the language advantage because their parent or carer is constantly engaging with them through chatter or song, directing their attention (and word identification) to objects, places and feelings. Parents/carers are also constantly observing and encouraging their child’s attempts to talk, interpreting their babble and correcting their speech. It’s a lot of additional intensive language tuition.
How much? Just one hour in a rear-facing pram every day for 3 years equals 1095 hours of EXTRA language building.
That's a big advantage – a bigger vocabulary – and this makes learning to read much easier. When kindergarten kids already understand the words, all they have to do is decode the letters. The sounds quickly fix to the meaning, and reading the word is easily remembered. But if a child has never encountered the word before, they have to learn two steps – both the meaning of the word plus the decoding. New words often need to be heard many times before they’re understood or remembered, and class doesn’t have time for that. If a child is taught the decoding before they have the time to really grasp the word’s meaning, the reading lesson won’t stick – at least, not easily. That young reader will struggle.
The child with the broader vocabulary will leap ahead.
So if we can give our kids a thousand or so hours of extra face-to-face language development time in the pram, what effect will it have on them?
The bigger vocabulary will mean they'll find reading enjoyable to learn and they'll enjoy reading. They're more likely to become voracious readers, and lifelong learners. They'll use their reading experience to become better creative writers and creative thinkers. They won't fall behind their peers and never recover. They'll be perceived as 'smarter', with more self-confidence and status in class. They'll be better liked by their teachers who will appreciate the good behaviour associated with better academic ability. They'll be smarter in all subjects across school, including maths and science. They'll be more confident and self-capable negotiating the outside world too.
Can this all come from a rear-facing pram? There's a lot of course at play but it will undoubtedly help. And your toddler or baby will not get sick or bored going backwards. They will be absolutely delighted by your constant attention, and enthralled with your continuous engagement with them and your surroundings.
I believe that if we can reintroduce the rear-facing pram as the normal type of stroller in our society, we will automatically improve reading levels and reading engagement at schools. Imagine how different schools could be if ALL kids started with a much broader, complex vocabulary.
So ditch the ipad or phone as a travelling distraction. The one machine that will really help your baby in their travels is the machine that brings them more face-to-face time with you: the rear-facing pram.
This blog post was brought to you by My School Adventure - a reading fundraiser for primary, elementary and middle grade schools, where we customise an exciting adventure gamebook novel to your school including 4 teachers as characters. www.myschooladventure.com