If you want to get dizzy, go visit the “early reading” section of any large bookstore. You’ll find packed rows of phonics sets, workbooks, and especially advice books, all of which seem to boil down to one scary message: if you don’t push hard now, and in just the right way, your young reader will never catch on!

Wait a minute, say many specialists – don’t believe all that hype. When your kids are little, the best way to help them read is both simple and fun: show them you love books and provide plenty of them at home.

Now, some children may have special affection for phonics sets and readers, but more often we’re talking about books that parents and kids read together for pure enjoyment. “What is most important,” explains Peggy Koshland-Crane, M.A., reading specialist and director of the Academic Success Center at Notre Dame de Namur University, “is to help children fall in love with reading.” Formal school instruction, she explains, will address reading skills one by one; but at home, she urges:

  • Set the stage: Have books around, all the time. This doesn’t need to cost much; regular trips to a library will provide a great selection.
  • Put in the time: Try to read to your child at least 15 minutes a day. If your child wants to read to you, that’s great – but don’t give up reading aloud when you’ve got an emerging reader. Read-alouds are fun and comforting. They also help kids understand how words and sentences sound and feel together.
  • Preview and predict. Before you even open a new book with your child, take a moment to look at the cover and illustrations. Let the child guess what might be next, and then enjoy what actually happens.
  • Talk it up. After you have read a story, talk about it. What happened first? Last? Did something like that ever happen to you? Expect to be surprised and delighted by your child’s answers.
  • Don't push too hard: As your child learns to read independently, do not demand reading at high levels. Children often love to read and re-read a simple book, and parents can think they are stagnating. More likely, emerging readers are consolidating their skills before jumping to tougher texts.

Of course, your child may still struggle with reading. Let’s face it: it’s hard! If you suspect that your child needs more support, make sure you talk with your school. For the vast majority of young readers, however, most reading specialists agree: when reading at home, read what you love, and the skills will follow.