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Raising a Reader

Overview

When it comes to reading, parents often place a lot of pressure on their kids  -- and themselves  -- early on. But there's no reason to rush things. Brain-development research shows that children aren't ready to learn the mechanics of reading until around age 5. Buying a preschooler phonics workbooks or reading software is not only unnecessary, it could also overwhelm her and turn her off from reading. That doesn't mean you can't help lay the foundation for your child's love of reading, though. The best approach: Have fun! Here's how, age by age.


Babies and toddlers

Reading to your infant  -- even though he can't understand everything you say  -- is the best way to begin. And one of the great things about storytime is that there's really no way to get it wrong. Even 10 to 15 minutes, two or three times a week, can offer immense benefits. Some ways to start:

Give your baby a few cloth books as soon as he's able to manipulate objects with his hands. He'll learn that pages turn and that pictures can be right-side up or upside down.

Make books accessible. Keep a bag filled with stories in the car to read to your toddler when you're, say, waiting for your older child after school; stash one in your purse to pull out while you're in line at the store.

React to the story. Pause to point out pictures, or note similarities between the book and your child's life ("That little kitten looks exactly like Grandma's!").

Follow your child's pace. As your baby gets older, he may want to turn back a page or two, or dwell especially long on an illustration. Let him.


Preschoolers

Reading to preschoolers teaches them to read from left to right, and that the little marks on the page  -- not just the pictures  -- convey the story. Strategies to make the experience even more enriching:

Ask questions about the story ("What do you think will happen next?") and talk about the pictures.

Read it again. While you may be tempted to hide that copy of Goodnight Moon just to avoid having to read it for the fifth time in a row, know that the desire for repetition is an important developmental stage. It's most pronounced during the toddler years, but can extend through early elementary school.

Make the alphabet fun by putting letters in context. For instance, ask your child to point out the "i" on the side of an ice cream truck or the "t" on a toy store.

Encourage your child to "read" or point out symbols, such as a stop sign.

Let her pretend to read to you. Many kids memorize books before they can actually read. Even if she hasn't committed a story to memory, she might still be able to describe what's happening on the page.


Kindergartners and first-graders

At this age, most children will start to sound out words and read simple books. To give yours a hand:

Choose rhyming texts. Rhymes emphasize the relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

Seek out books about things he likes, whether it's cartoon superheroes, sports, or pets.

Encourage him to read (and reread) easy books aloud. This will familiarize him with words and word endings.

Don't interrupt if he mispronounces a word or spells it out incorrectly. Instead, wait until he finishes, then say, "Did that word make sense? Let's take another look." He may be able to glean a word's meaning from its context.

Don't stop reading to him. Even children who can already read on their own appreciate the chance to simply listen.


Avoiding reading roadblocks

It's a great day when your child is finally able to read a book "all by myself!" But even the most enthusiastic early reader can hit a rough patch. Some potential problems that may pop up, and ways to help your child steer clear of (or get through) 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 she likes. 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 her skill level  -- and no longer have as many fun illustrations. The solution: Talk to librarians, teachers, and other parents to find engaging titles, and keep reading more advanced books, like Charlotte's Web, together.

No time for books (ages 8 to 9) By third grade, other activities, like afterschool programs and homework, compete for your child's limited free time. Make sure books don't fall by the wayside by limiting TV viewing and making reading part of your child's daily routine. Also, make sure she has a comfortable, well-lighted spot to curl up in with a book, and encourage her to read aloud to you or a younger sibling. Playing word games, such as Scrabble, will also help build her vocabulary.

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. Raise your son's interest by filling your home with books, magazines, and newspapers, and let your child see you poring over them.

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. To keep your child excited, capitalize on her natural curiosity. Visit the library or bookstore to find things she's interested in (including comic books), and don't make reading another chore by forcing her to finish a book she doesn't like.


Summary

Nurturing a love of reading is a process. It's not about having a precocious 3-year-old or a grade-schooler who's a bookworm, but rather about raising a child whose life will be enriched by books and learning. So surround yours with imaginative stories and let him take the lead  -- soon he'll be recommending great books to you!


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