Being a good reader is one of the best predictors of academic success, says a University of Georgia expert. But reading isn't easy for thousands of American children.
"The first step is to read to your children regularly, beginning in infancy," Bales said. "Hearing you read helps children learn language. And sharing books teaches your child that reading is fun."
Don't be surprised if your child wants to hear the same story over and over. Repetition actually helps young children learn better.
Set a good example
Another important step in helping your child enjoy reading is to pick up a book yourself. "When your kids see you reading a newspaper or curling up with a book, they'll want to follow your example," she said.
When your child begins to learn reading in school, there are many other ways to help him be a better reader, Bales said.
Make reading a family outing. "Plan regular family trips to the library," she said. "Make sure everyone has his own library card and make visiting the library a habit."
Make it a habit
Set aside regular times for reading, and have good books available. Just like playing basketball or painting pictures, reading is a skill. It must be practiced regularly. Research shows that children who read for fun at least 30 minutes every day become better readers at school.
Read aloud to your child, and read with your child. "Have your child select a book for you to read aloud," Bales said. "As she learns to read better, take turns reading a sentence or a page aloud."
What can you do if you're not a good reader? Encourage your child to read aloud to you. Have an older child read to a younger sibling. Ask a friend or relative to read aloud to your children. Talk with your children about the books they read. Act out stories from their favorite books.
Keep reading and encouraging
Bales said many parents mistakenly stop reading to their children once the child learns to read independently.
"Don't stop reading to your children as they grow older," she said. "Choose good stories that are beyond their current reading level. And talk about what you're reading."
Think of creative ways to encourage your children to read. Give books as gifts. "Occasionally allow your child to stay up past her usual bedtime if she agrees to read a book in bed. Or agree to read aloud a chapter of a favorite book if your child helps wash the dishes," Bales said.
Make reading fun
Reading can also become a game. "Send your child on a scavenger hunt through the newspaper," Bales said. "Have him read the day's weather report, or three words that begin with 'w.'"
Let your child select books that interest her. Recommend some of your childhood favorites. But encourage her, too, to choose what she really wants to read. Children are more likely to be motivated to read when they're reading something they like.
"Helping children see reading as a useful tool can also motivate them," Bales said. "Have them read the road signs as you travel or the ingredients of a favorite recipe as you cook. This helps them see how important reading is in our lives."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)