A recent study by the Department of Education that was reaported in Science Daily reported that 44% of Fourth Graders in the United States are reading below the basic mastery level for their age group. In California, 59% are reading below mastery.
For those who have been following my columns, you know that I did not learn to swim until I was 26-years-old. The consequences of not learning to read are more immediate and much graver for chilren. Studies show that the following problems are highly correlated with poor reading: poor grades, easily frustrated, difficulty completing assignments, low self-esteem, behavioral problems, increased physical illness, more likely to not like school, more likely to be shy in front of groups of people, failing to develop full potential.
One of the strongest influences that a parent can have is to model appropriate behavior for their children. To paraphrase the writer James Baldwin, children often fail to listen to their parents, but they never fail to imitate their parents' behavior. This means that what we do is often more powerful than what we say.
Nowhere is this need to model appropriate behaviior more important than with reading. Studies show that parents who read aloud to their children are more likely to produce students who are better readers. This can be done with as little as ten to twenty minutes per day.
Parents who read aloud, describe pictures in the book, talk about what was read and relate it to something in their child's life, and encouraging the child to ask questions about the reading material are also important in helping the child learn to read.
There are also some excellent sites for reading and learning phonics that are available on the internet. Two of my favorites are ClickN Read and Reading Horizons. These sites provide stimulating games that help children learn phonics and reading at an amazing pace.
Of course, since you are modeling reading by reading to your chldren, you could also model hitting those websites for your chldren.
Again, I learned to swim at age 26 without any really punishing consequences for my academic and occupational life, but you cannot postpone your child's reading for that same amount of time. Read to your child, interact with them about what you have read, and encourage them to use the above websites in order to increase the chances of preparing your child for school–and for life.