Your 6-year-old just read a book "all by myself!" and you haven't been this excited since she took her first steps. But even though sounding out those initial words is an important start, it's just the beginning of a long learning process. Up ahead lie some roadblocks that can stymie even the most enthusiastic early reader. Some ways to help your child steer clear of them:
PICTURES VS. A THOUSAND WORDS (AGES 6 TO 8)
As she makes the transition from picture to text books, your child may have trouble finding material that pleases. That's because she's accustomed to the complex chapter books you've read to her, but her own early books are much simpler -- to match a new reader's skill level -- and no longer have as many fun illustrations. The solution: Talk to librarians, teachers, and other parents to find engaging titles, and don't stop reading more advanced books, like Charlotte's Web, together. "Hearing stories that are more complicated than they can handle on their own makes children want to take on more, because they've tasted how good the stuff is," says Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook.
NO TIME FOR BOOKS (AGES 8 TO 9)
By third grade, many kids start to lose the reading habit as television and increased activities -- such as homework and after-school programs -- compete for limited free time. To make sure books don't fall by the wayside, limit TV viewing and make reading part of your child's daily routine. And don't stop reading with her. Too often, say experts, parents assume their job is done once a child can tackle books on her own. Also make sure she has a comfortable, well-lighted spot to curl up in, encourage her to read aloud to you or a younger sibling, and play word games, such as Scrabble.
THE FOURTH-GRADE SLUMP (Ages 9 To 10)
Some experts estimate that as many as one-third of children lose interest in books sometime around the fourth grade. "At that point, reading is no longer just for fun," says Paul Kropp, author of Raising a Reader: Make Your Child a Reader for Life. "It's become a serious tool for social studies, science, even math. And just as it's becoming more important, many parents no longer explore books with their kids." As a result, some youngsters fall behind. A 1994 national survey found 40 percent of fourth-graders reading below grade level.
To keep your child excited about the written word, capitalize on her natural curiosity. Visit the library or a bookstore to find material she's interested in -- including magazines and comic books -- and don't make reading another chore by forcing her to finish a book she doesn't like. Finally, continue reading together. Even a child who resists picking up a book by herself will look forward to time spent with you.
REAL MEN DON'T READ (AGES 8 AND UP)
Boys far outnumber girls in remedial reading classes, and many experts blame cultural biases that emphasize sports over academic achievement. To compensate, fill your home with books, magazines, and newspapers, and let your child see you poring over them. "And," adds Trelease, "just as the fathers of athletes say, 'Why don't we go out and throw the ball around?' the fathers of book lovers can say, 'How about we finish one more chapter?'"