When should I start reading aloud to my child? The answer is start the day he or she is born. Talk to your new baby; tell your infant about you and his or her new family and the wonderful world around him or her. Read a children’s book, a Sports Illustrated magazine, or the Sunday comics to your new baby. What is most important for your one-to-four-month old is that he or she hears words, conversation, from you. A book, magazine, or newspaper is a helpful prop, to help you talk with your baby. Singing and reciting nursery rhymes, songs, and lullabies are great ways to introduce your newborn to language. In your library you will find books specifically designed for babies and toddlers. They are made of cardboard, have rounded corners, and have a coated drool-proof finish. And the librarians at your neighborhood public library will help you find the right books for your baby as he or she grows.

My first grader can’t read – what should I do? We don’t expect, or think, that all kids look alike on the outside; why do we expect them to be alike on the inside? Not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace. Great teachers realize that every child has his or her own unique learning style. And they will do everything they can, using a multitude of reading strategies, to reach your child and teach him or her to read. Great teachers also read aloud to their students and introduce them to entertaining and informative books. If you have any concerns about your child’s educational progress the first step is to share your concerns with your child’s teacher. Find out if your child can be assessed by a professional to determine if he or she has any learning disabilities. If, after speaking to your child’s teacher, you still have concerns, talk to your child’s reading specialist and then speak to the school principal, if you do not feel your concerns have been addressed.

Don’t ever stop reading aloud to kids, even when they have become independent readers. In general, literacy skills gradually increase for kids ages five through eight. Then, when kids are nine to eleven years old, statistics reveal that literacy skills begin to decline, especially in boys. Fifty percent of parents and guardians read aloud to kids, but the majority stops reading aloud to their kids when they believe their kids can read to themselves, which usually happens when kids are eight to ten years old. Is it a coincidence that kids’ literacy skills start to decline at the same time their parents have stopped reading aloud to them? We think there is a connection. Kids love, and crave, adult attention—even older kids, even when they say they don’t. Continue to take the time in your busy day to share a book. Reading aloud together sends a clear message to your child – reading and books are important!

Make sure your child has a library card and knows how to use it. Take your child to the library on a regular basis. One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is to help them to feel at home in the library. If you haven’t been to a library yourself for years, or if you feel a bit intimidated in a library, don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your child. Kids love to find out that grown-ups don’t know everything, and you can explore the library together. Introduce your kids to the children’s librarian and ask the librarian or the library aid to show you around the children’s room. Explore the rest of the library together and make sure your child knows where the restrooms are and any procedures they need to know to use the restroom. To keep kids safe, many libraries have special restrooms for children that they keep locked until needed. Today most libraries have: books and magazines; special programs for children and teens; literacy programs; free passes to local museums; audiobooks; free access to the Internet; and a wide variety of CDs, DVDs, and videos.

You are the boss, not the kids. Turn the electronics off; kids don’t need them on all the time. Your kids don’t need their own television sets in their bedrooms. They don’t need earphones playing music all the time. Kids have existed happily for centuries without video or computer games. Make house rules concerning the use of the electronic media in your home. Do kids need to watch TV every day? On school nights? Are electronic games stress releasing or mind numbing? Does your use of multiple television sets promote family togetherness? Experiment, turn off the TV sets for a week, and see what happens. Instead of watching TV one night, listen to a great radio program. Have your teens experiment and play different kinds of music when they do their homework. Find out if the beat of the music affects the rhythm of their writing. When watching a TV program, movie, or when playing a video game, verbally assess the program or product in front of your kids. Teach them to be critical of electronic media and encourage them to share their observations. In other words, take the time to think about your family’s electronic habits, and don’t be afraid to set up rules and restrictions.

Don’t over program your kids. Buck the trend and give your child unstructured time to play alone or with friends. Give the kids a room in the attic or the basement that they can call their own; a room that they can spill paint on the floor without you going nuts. Fill the room with simple things: all kinds of paper, crayons, paint, and markers; tape, scissors, and glue; wooden blocks; board games; puzzles; books; army men; small plastic zoo animals; a couple of big cardboard boxes; old clothes for dressing up; a boom box and CDs with a wide variety of music – country and western, show tunes, rock and roll, and even some opera! And leave them alone in the room – for hours. Let them come up with ideas to entertain themselves. If you get worried, check on them once in a while – bring them lunch or cookies and milk. But let them create their own entertainment – let them do their own problem solving. Imaginations are like muscles; they must be exercised.