Q & A: Reading to Your Kids

Parents ask the experts about reading to and with their children.

Q: How old must a child be before you start reading to him?

A: Jim Trelease: When did you start talking to your child? Usually, you start right after birth. When you were holding that newborn in your arms, whispering, "We love you," you were speaking multisyllable words and complex sentences in a foreign language to a child who didn't understand one word you were saying! And you never thought twice about doing it. But most people can't imagine reading to that same child. And that's sad. If a child is old enough to talk to, she's old enough to be read to. It's the same language.

Q: I have a 12-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old. What one book can I read that will hold all their attentions?

A: Jim Trelease: Do they all wear the same size clothes, ride the same size bike or have the same size friends? Here's a little rule of thumb: If you can't squeeze your children into the same size underwear, don't try to squeeze them into the same size book. In doing that, you end up watering down the reading material to accommodate the lowest common denominator. The solution is to read to them individually if there is more than three years difference in their ages. It takes longer, but then parenting isn't supposed to be a time-saving experience.

Q: How can I raise my child's reading level?

A: Mary Leonhardt: Any kind of reading, as long as children find it enthralling, will quickly and significantly raise reading levels. Good readers are good readers because they love reading. Poor readers — except for the very few who are truly learning disabled — are poor readers because they dislike reading and never do it unless forced. Find reading material, whether a comic book or magazine, about an interest or passion that your child has. Allow your children to read books that make them feel like wonderful readers. They'll move on after a while. Books that are too easy will become boring to them. But let that happen naturally.

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