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It takes some vigilance, not a village, to raise readers

Literacy experts advise parents to start early and to make reading aloud a family affair.

November 25, 2005|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Literacy is a life lesson -- beginning at the first cry or coo and basically never-ending -- so to get people psyched up for something that can seem a little daunting, it's best to get them hooked while they are young.

Reading aloud to infants, toddlers, preschoolers and then schoolchildren and beyond might be the best bait, says Dawnene D. Hassett, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the department of curriculum and instruction.

She says that more than 30 years of research about early literacy all points to having adults read to children as the first step toward success.

"Oral language development is so important for early literacy success," says Hassett. "When you read books when kids are young, the tangible benefits last through at least the fourth grade. Hearing books with rich language develops vocabulary, new concepts, a sense of story and how books work."

She adds: "One of the big problems in schools for young children is if they don't have experience with books. It makes the early years in school that much more challenging."

Publications International, a publisher of children's books and creator of Story Reader, an interactive preschool book line, is launching an initiative called Family Reading Night. It encourages families to spend one night a week reading with each other.

"There's no wrong way to do it.... It's like asking, 'Are you for world peace or a strong economy?' " says Kerry Cunnion, a corporate executive vice president. "The difference is that you do anything about those things as an individual. You can do something here."

In his own household in suburban Chicago, the power to choose the book for the 60-minute family reading night belongs to his 4-year-old daughter.

"I [also] have three teenage boys," Cunnion said. "It would require an act of Congress for them to do something as a family if I asked, but she did the invitations for them to come to her 'reading club' -- and they came."

Hassett, a former elementary school teacher and reading specialist, notes that children who are struggling with their reading skills are more likely to seek help at home when they're away from their peers.

"A family reading experience, no matter what the age of the kids, is great. You can even read textbooks with older children."

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