"It's not hard to teach children how to read; however, stimulating and maintaining the desire to read is another story," says Joanne Rocklin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and works with children in Woodland Hills and Burbank. "This process begins very, very early, and it begins in your lap."
Rocklin and Nancy Levinson, co-authors of a nonfiction book for preteens and teens ("Getting High in Natural Ways," Hunter House, P.O. Box 1302, Claremont, Calif. 91711) have presented workshops to parents on "how to infect your kids with the reading bug." Rocklin is also the author of a novel for middle-grade readers ("Sonia Begonia," Macmillan).
Reading aloud to your child, even as an infant, is very important, according to Rocklin. "Your youngster will learn to associate books with nice things--a soothing voice, the warmth of your body, a quiet, sleepy time before a nap. Books themselves will begin to represent security and comfort." Eventually your child begins to associate certain sounds with letters on the page, and he or she enjoys the orderliness of word-for-word repetition of certain favorite books. For help in choosing books to read aloud, consult Jim Trelease's "The Read-Aloud Handbook" (Penguin Books).
Beyond reading aloud to your children--and don't stop once they learn to read--there are a number of other ways you can encourage a love of reading. Naturally, you'll want to be seen reading yourself: Your example is the best teacher. Take your child to nearby library branches regularly for story hours, and get to know the children's librarian so you can become friends in the search for good books. Buy new children's books for all possible occasions, and ransack garage sales and the shelves at thrift shops for bargain-priced books.
Art of Choice
Choosing the right book for a particular child is an art. Since you know your child's interest best, spend some time reading children's literature yourself. In addition to children's librarians, the staff at Southern California bookstores that specialize in children's reading matter will be delighted to assist you in your search for appropriate books to pique your child's interest.
One way to show you value books and reading is to provide each child with a personal bookcase. Another is to install a lamp near the bed so bedtime reading is more comfortable. Those battery-operated mini-clip-on lights are a convenient and fun alternative. You might consider the incentive value of extending bedtime a bit to allow extra time for reading.
Once your child is in the middle grades of elementary school and has a high volume of interests--friends, social events, music lessons and television--competing for her free time, you need to use extra ingenuity in finding ways to increase her desire to read. For example, when your child expresses interest in a particular toy, have him bring you a catalogue (from among those you've gathered from department stores), and look up the toy to find out its features and price. If reading long passages is too forbidding for your reader, clip out interesting photos from the newspaper and leave them around for your child to read the captions.
If your child likes surprises, consider "hiding" some books with child appeal among the books on your own shelves to encourage browsing and exploring. An activity you can share is the reading aloud together of books that contain lots of dialogue, with each of you taking the part of one or more characters. Also, children's magazines are a fine way of stimulating interest in reading. It's always exciting when a new issue arrives. And don't overlook a subscription for your child to an adult periodical about a favorite sport or hobby.
Keep reading in mind as you go about daily activities. When you cook together, your child can be in charge of reading the recipe aloud. When you go grocery shopping, let your youngster carry and read the shopping list.
Consider having your child participate in a reading program such as the March of Dimes Reading Champions. As reward for reading books of their own choice, children earn certificates, iron-on transfers, and Olympic-style "medals." Sponsors pledge a certain amount per book read, and the proceeds go to fight birth defects. A phone call to March of Dimes headquarters at (818) 956-8565 (ask for Shaina) before Feb. 20 will give the staff time to handle your request for a sponsor sheet for this year's program.
You don't need to be concerned if your child is one of those who does not derive pleasure from most fiction. Some people's thinking is so rooted in the here and now, the real and the possible that they do not enjoy reading about imaginary characters in novels. If so, leave them peacefully to their nonfiction, their encyclopedias, their catalogues, and their instruction manuals. Though they are unlikely to become the poets of the future, still they have every chance of developing in ways that will be pleasing to themselves and to you.