Raising a Reader

One of my greatest fears about having a child was having one who struggled with reading. There was a good chance that would happen as my otherwise brilliant husband has had a lifelong tug of war with books. Although sluggish at first, my son finally settled into a groove with reading but it wasn’t until he was 8 and finishing third grade that reading clicked. Believe it or not, you can start promoting a reader in your baby from day 1.

9 Tips Every Parent Should Utilize to Promote Reading

  1. READ to your child from day 1. As he/she gets older, re-read your child’s favorites. You can use books many ways – a parent reading, a child pointing out letters, colors, objects; a child taking over telling the story, or even changing the plot line, and eventually sounding out the words and reading it to a parent.
  2. Talk about what you have just read, what new words mean, and build comprehension.
  3. Don’t forget nursery rhymes – rhyming and learning how to do it is a complex brain activity – children enjoy filling in the blanks for other words that could rhyme. Challenge them!
  4. OPPORTUNITIES TO READ ARE EVERYWHERE. It can start with STOP signs; in my son’s case, his first letter was M (for McDonalds). Comic books, street signs, signs above stores, and in windows, on instructions, all feed the brain.
  5. CREATE A SPACE AND TIME for reading. A little corner of a room with a cozy rug, some low shelves, some beloved books, and time in the day carved out for reading is conducive and inviting. Huddle in there with your child to enjoy the peace of the reading corner. Make sure that daily reading, with or without you, becomes a routine.
  6. TAKE TRIPS TO THE LIBRARY – even toddlers can latch on to the magnitude of books all around. If there are child reading circles or story times at your library or local bookstore, by all means dive in on a regular basis.
  7. LET YOUR CHILD CHOOSE his/her BOOKS and TOPICS – a child is more likely to be passionate about reading if the material in the book interests him. In my son’s case, that turned out to be Captain Underpants.
  8. READ BOOKS, not SCREENS, IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILD – that sends the message that reading should be part of each day. For you, that’s catching up on the news, the new supermarket ads, or even a magazine. Reading is reading!
  9. LET YOUR PRESCHOOLER PRETEND TO READ – his play acting, and attraction to the activity is important.

Despite all this advice, about 10 million children in the US have difficulties learning to read. That’s 4 out of 10 kids!

The good news is that more than 90% of struggling readers can overcome their difficulties if they receive appropriate treatment at an early age. And the earlier we help their brains wrap around books, the better. The bad news is that nearly half of all parents who notice their child having trouble wait a year or more before getting help. Unfortunately, the older a child is, the more difficult it is to teach him or her to read. If a child can’t read well by the end of third grade, odds are that he or she will never catch up. And the effects of falling behind and feeling like a failure can be devastating.

Early identification is key in turning around your child’s struggle. This is a wonderful tool that parents can administer to their children at age 4 – it’s a screen developed by speech experts to help discern whether a child is ready for KG entry, or needs some extra TLC in the reading arena before registering for school.

Why do some kids struggle?

Normal reading requires words to be seen (so good vision is important); to get to the right parts of the brain to be processed and then remembered, and back out to the mouth to be spoken. If there is interference or a detour in any of these pathways, reading can be very difficult or even unsuccessful. Some children may have physical disabilities that make reading difficult, others may not have a literacy level that is age appropriate, or received inadequate reading instruction. When identified early, may reading difficulties may be prevented!

Here are some warning signs that reading might potentially be difficult:

  • Language or speech problems –  Children who talk late, who say very few words, who have trouble pronouncing words, or who have difficulty expressing feelings verbally may have trouble learning to read.
  • Hearing impairment  Children who have difficulty hearing the individual sounds in words may have trouble understanding how those sounds connect with letters in written words.

Other warning signs:

  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet, numbers, or days of the week
  • Difficulty following multi-step directions
  • Difficulty telling or re-telling a story

How do I get my child evaluated?

Talk to your pediatrician about local resources that can help, especially if your child has language, speech or hearing delays or some of the other warning signs. Most children over the age of 3 can be evaluated by their local school district, if their insurance doesn’t cover an educational evaluation. Once IN school, all public schools MUST respond to parental or teacher requests for evaluation if there are concerns. And school districts MUST fund evaluations by outside professionals if there are none within the school or district who can do so. Help is out there – and when in doubt, your child’s pediatrician can point you in the right direction!




About Dr. JJ Levenstein

Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and in 2012 retired from her thriving private pediatric practice in Encino, California. She served on the staff of CHLA and Encino Tarzana Hospitals for 20 years and was consistently voted one of the Best Doctors in America® from 2003 through 2012. Drawing from her experience as a pediatrician and mom, Dr. Levenstein serves as president and co-founder of MD Moms, makers of Baby Silk, the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician moms. She serves on the board of United Cerebral Palsy LA, is an active writer and sits on the advisory boards of several child-centered websites. She is an accomplished chef and completed culinary school in 2013! She has had a lifelong interest in child nutrition and all things related to preventive health.

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