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Ready, Set, Read!

May 7, 2008
Want to teach your child to read, but not sure how? Relax. You're not alone, and it's easier than you think. Whether your child is 4 months or 4 years, now is the time to begin.

Teaching your son or daughter to read is not a one-day or one-weekend event. It's a mind-set, an awareness of the myriad of opportunities to teach your daughter about language - speaking, listening, reading and writing - the elements of communication.

Develop Her Language Skills

"Talking enables children to expand their vocabulary and understanding of the world. The ability to carry on a conversation is important for reading development," says The U.S. Department of Education.

Right from the beginning, talk to your child about the world around her. Even if she doesn't talk back, she loves to hear your voice; she's listening and learning.

As she approaches toddler-hood, she's old enough to learn her letters. This is an exciting time! Whether or not you love to read, growing and reaching another stage is great fun for a kid...make a big deal of it!

Invest in an alphabet board or set of magnetic letters for the refrigerator. Let your child watch you set up her name. Tell her the letter names and sounds as you go. When you're finished say, "That's your name!"

Use the letters to spell a different word each week. Name family members, pets, favorite toys. Once your child begins to recognize letters, tell her the letters, but let her "spell" the word.

Your son or daughter doesn't have to understand all at once. You don't have to go over every letter every time. A letter here, a letter there does the trick. Entice her. Say, "When you're three or four, I'll teach you to write your name."

"Patience, confidence and playfulness in your approach will get results. If, from time to time, your child gets distracted and loses interest, take a break. Children love to learn. Give them a little breathing room and their interest will always be renewed, " says the U.S. Department of Education.

When it's time to read...make it fun.

Setting aside 10 - 30 minutes before bedtime to read with your child is the best way to foster her love of reading. After she's ready for bed, the two of you snuggle together, and you read to her. Choose fun, simple stories at first. Look for bright pictures, repetitive, rhyming words. Look for silly stories that'll make her smile. Look for her favorite characters.

When you read, teach her the basics.

* Point to the words as you read. Explain words go across the page from left to right as you follow the words with your finger.

* Tell her words on a page are made up of letters and are separated by a space.

* Explain each letter has at least 2 forms; one for capital letters and one for small letters. Each has at least one sound.

When the story is over, occasionally play "I Spy." Say, "I spy a 'T'." Challenge her to find the letter. When she finds the letter, tell her its' sound. If she enjoys this game, play over and over with all the letters. As she gets more proficient, say, "I spy the word 'tree.'" Teach her to find the word.

When she succeeds, be enthusiastic and generous with your praise. Say, "You did it!" "You're really learning your letters!" "I'm proud of you!"

Once your child begins to read on her own, let her read to you. Be patient and encouraging. Be prepared for a monotone voice and frequent stops and starts. It'll be a while before she's fluent, but just like everything else, the more she reads, the better she'll get.

To ease the transition, take turns. You read one paragraph; she reads one paragraph. As proficiency goes up, you read one page, she reads one page.

If she has a problem with a word, suggest she skip it and read the rest of the sentence. What would make sense? What does she know about letters and sounds? Have her sound out what she can and make and educated guess.

If she's a reluctant reader...

Even if your child hates to stay still, there are ways to get her reading.

For an energetic toddler, buy a set of stacking illustrated alphabet cubes. Stack and build with her. Say, "Hey, there's an E!" "Look at that elephant!" "What do you think this word says?"

Buy an alphabet place-mat. Every time she eats, she'll see letters and pictures.

For a 3-5 year old, consider purchasing Leap Frog's Fun & Learn Phonic Bus. Keep it in your child's room, a special toy reserved for quiet time before bed. If she can't sleep, tell her she can quietly play with the bus.

Encourage pretend reading. Keep a small pile of books near her bed. If she can't sleep and doesn't want to play with her phonics bus, she can "read."

For a 6-9 year old, consider an electronic spelling blaster hand-held game.

And of course, for kids of all ages, there are computer software programs featuring her favorite characters. While your child plays, she is exposed to letters. Just make sure you don't label any of these items "reading" toys.

If you've tried everything and your school-age child is a frustrated reader, consider a vision and hearing test.

"Some of the more widely recognized causes of reading problems are vision and hearing impairments and poor speech and language development," says U.S. Department of Education. "The earlier the difficulty is discovered and additional help provided, the better the child's chances are of becoming a successful reader."

Finally, if your child says she hates to read and never wants to see another book, take heart. Remember how long it took her to walk. And even though she stumbled and cried over and over, with encouragement and determination she soon learned to run.
About the Author
Dede Perkins writes on a number of subjects for a number of industries. She also runs a copywriting business, http://www.afewgoodwords.com and helps her clients increase sales by clarifying and communicating their marketing messages.
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