Said Barrington: "I'm a believer in talking to the baby in utero because oral language is necessary before you can read."
Once born, the sounds babies make shouldn't be disregarded as noise. Baby-talk is actually the beginning of language, Colter said. Non-sensical word games and nursery rhymes are important to young children's brain development.
The repetition of words and rhyming help children with memorization and recognition, two key factors in literacy.
Nursery rhymes and simple songs "introduce phonemic awareness and understanding that words are made of sounds," Barrington said.
This will prepare the child to later realize letters on paper convey sounds, she added.
When children begin putting things together, as when they recognize the golden arches and associate the arches with McDonald's, they are at the throes of literacy, Colter said.
Talking with your children is helpful to their language skills throughout their youth. Barrington suggests parents keep talking and asking questions as kids grow.
"It extends children's language and helps develop critical thinking skills," Barrington said.
"We're all so busy, but this is important," Barrington said.
More than just one-word replies, parents should engage their children in conversations and ask open-ended questions.
Even if children can't read, don't let it stop you from sharing a book with them.
"It's very comforting being read to," Colter said.
"The more you read, the better you read," Colter said, recommending parents read to their children 10 to 20 minutes every day.
"That is probably more important than spending a whole day at a theme park," Colter said.
Parents should read to their children and have their children read to them "to have fun, to share, to show reading isn't pain," Colter said.
"We have parents calling saying it's a struggle getting their kids to read. Reading should be a sheer joy," Colter said.
"Reading for pleasure will help you read for information more easily," she added.
Barrington thinks, as do many others, that kids who choose their own reading material are more successful readers later and enjoy reading more than kids who have no choice.
"If a child's interested … they will eventually read more themselves later," Barrington said.
Even if the book or magazine is written at a more advanced level than where the child is, he or she will work at it until it is learned, Barrington said.
"They'll pick it up faster," she added.
"You want them to want to read" so let your children choose subjects that interest them, Barrington said.
For children 6 to 18 months, Barrington suggests books with bright, large pictures and a small amount of text, if any.
Simple pictures "make it easier for children to focus on something visually," Barrington said.
The bright colors are attractive to kids in this age group.
Not only should parents spend time reading with their kids, parents should read on their own, Barrington said. Children learn by example, so let them see you with a book or magazine of your own.
Lastly, visit your local library. Not only is it a cost-free way to encourage reading, librarians have a wealth of knowledge about what books may be interesting and helpful for your child.
Also inquire at your library about special reading groups or other activities for kids and families.
Staff Writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.