Reading: Feeding Young Minds

In todayís fast-paced electronic age where parents are finding less time to read, literacy experts maintain that reading books and/or magazines can make the difference between success and failure for school-age children.

"Kids who are exposed to books and reading at an early age are most successful in school," says registered nurse, Susan Cooley, Ph.D., project director for Reach Out & Read Texas (, better known as ROR, and assistant professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

While ROR, the new national initiative, and other reading programs are effective, Cooley offers simple tips that all parents can use to make reading fun:

  • Always go to your children first. Allocate parent/child time immediately upon returning home from a busy day.

  • Donít answer the telephone during time with your children. If your loved ones are already in the house, then the call cannot be an emergency.

  • Reduce all distractions. Make time with children sacred.

  • Understand that children, in practice, donít always sit quietly and listen like they do on television. If they walk away during reading time, then use your voice or read to their favorite toy to engage them.

  • Use an egg timer to help children gauge their reading time.

  • Create ways to show that reading is fun and a part of daily interaction. For example, read the packaging for childrenís favorite foods or walk around the house and identify certain household items.

  • Continually talk to your children and attentively listen to their responses.

  • Choose your favorite stories to heighten enthusiasm when reading to children.

  • Ensure that at least 10-15 minutes a day are devoted to reading.

Dolores Perin, associate professor in psychology and education at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York, agrees that active participation from parents increases the chances of having well-prepared children.

"The best way for parents to help their children become literate is to do task-related things. Children and adults become encouraged to read when itís done in a context thatís useful for them. For example, a lot of the children we work with are from a low socioeconomic group and their parents arenít well educated. Anyway, these parents see education as a functional tool to attain ĎThe American Dream,í so they eagerly help their children study," Perin explains.

She says, "parents must read to their children, even if they do not read well, because children will then view reading as fun time with their parent(s). Oftentimes, reading aloud to children also helps adults sharpen their reading skills without being stigmatized."

Perin, who is also the coordinator for Columbia Universityís Reading Specialist Program, says parents can create reading incentives by taking their children to the library, to a reading clinic, or to other such community-based programs.

"Parents are childrenís first teachers and sometimes parents need help with this task. Thatís where many schools and community-based programs come in. They usually have the resources to help parents help their children," Perin says.

Childrenís librarian Jennifer Wells, at the Cobb County Library in Georgia, says that multimedia such as felt boards, songs, jumping jacks and games facilitate interaction between parent and child during reading events at the library.

"We lead by example here. The parents we deal with already read to their children, but most are looking for fun ways to engage their children," Wells says. "We provide song sheets, finger-play sheets and other information that we give parents to reinforce at home what they learn while they are here."

She says most parents generally ask what types of books are age-appropriate for their children. Wells says books about sharing and sibling rivalry are most popular.

The International Reading Association (, based in Newark, Delaware, produces pamphlets and other materials promoting family literacy. One such pamphlet says, "research tells us that young children who participate in conversations, are read to regularly, have books in their home, and develop print awareness have a head start on reading and literacy skills when they enter school."

According to literacy professionals, reading remains fundamental and parents must play an active role if they want their children to succeed.

Online Resources:

Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), full literacy network for families


Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, family literacy support service


Family Education Network, full parenting resource


Partnership for Family Involvement In Education, Department of Education program


National Center for Family Literacy, provides literacy training, programs, etc.


Reading Is Fundamental, Inc., provides literacy resources to children