Reading to very young children is crucial to help them eventually learn to read. But researchers studying how kids begin to understand that text conveys meaning differently than pictures - an important concept for reading readiness - say parents should pay attention to writing, too. Some suggestions:

-Run a finger under the text when reading to youngsters. Otherwise, kids pay more attention to the pictures and miss an opportunity to link written words to spoken language, said Brett Miller of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

-Show children how you write their names well before they could attempt it, said Temple University psychology professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. That's one of their first concrete examples that a mysterious squiggle on a page is a symbol for a word they know.

-Often a child's name is his or her first written word, thanks to memorizing what it looks like. Encouraging youngsters to invent their own spellings of other words could spur them to write even more, said developmental psychologist Rebecca Treiman of Washington University in St. Louis.

-When youngsters scribble, don't guess what they produced - ask, Hirsh-Pasek said. It's pretty discouraging if a tot's about to announce he wrote a story and mom thinks he drew a house.

-Post a scribble they're proud of on the refrigerator, she said. Children are figuring out patterns with their scribbles, and that's more instructive than merely pasting copies of, say, apples onto a page to make a recognizable picture.

-Give tots a pencil or pen instead of a crayon if they say they want to "write" rather than "draw" so it will look more like text, Treiman said.

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