Give gift of reading to children

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Slowly I unwrapped the Christmas present; well, not really slowly ... more like ripped the paper off. There in my hands was a book. Not just any book, but a copy of "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel." It was quite a book for someone as young as I was in 1946, but a book that I could read, nonetheless.

If you have never read "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," it is about an inseparable duo that digs the great canals for the big boats to travel through, cuts through the large mountains so trains can pass, and hollows out the deep cellars for the great skyscrapers in the city.

But the introduction of gasoline, electric, and diesel shovels means big trouble for Mike and Mary Anne. No one wants an old-fashioned steam shovel like Mary Anne when a modern shovel can do the digging in half the time.

Sure, it had some great pictures in it, and the text was not too difficult to read, but the point is that I was going to read it, by myself, and that excited me to no end.

I had been working at reading for several years, and to receive such a wonderful book for Christmas not only pleased me, but it also reminded me of all the books and reading I had done since my mother, father and grandmother had started reading to and with me when I was a lot younger.

It might have been a different time, then, without television, DVDs and iPods. It also was a time when your parents were home a lot more in the evening and on weekends than folks seem to be today. It was that learning-to-read experience that formed the foundation of my love for books and reading that now, in my 60s, is something I see our children doing with their children as we did with them.

Reading on a regular basis, telling and listening to stories, and spending several moments of quality time with youngsters as they grow and prepare to enter school, prepares an educational foundation for a lifetime.

First lady Laura Bush said: "As parents, the most important thing we can do is read to our children early and often. Reading is the path to success in school and life. When children learn to love books, they learn to love learning."

Reading to your children is not something that should be viewed with apprehension or concern for not knowing how to do it or what is involved. It might even be an enjoyable learning experience for you.

I'd like to suggest several things to do, beginning with a newborn infant, to instill the love of books, as well as establishing the ability to read that will become a pattern leading to success in their education process as they grow and mature. They are not difficult and can be enjoyable.

- Spend time with your children talking, telling stories and singing songs.
- Hold the book so your child can see the words and the pictures.
- Read to and with your children every day.
- Let your children help choose books you read together.
- Find a comfortable place to read and sit close to your children.
- Change your voice and the pace that you read to fit the story.
- After reading the book, talk about the story. 
- Take your children to the library regularly. 
- Encourage your children to read to you. Even if they are unable to read the book, let them tell the story in their own words. Have them pick out words they can read.
- Involve grandparents, baby sitters, siblings and others in your work toward your child's reading success.

The world of letters and sounds is a mystery to a young child. Parents can help them discover what these mean as part of the process of learning to read. Parents have a unique opportunity to foster a love of books and reading in their children.

This Christmas, buy a book to read to your child so he or she does not become one of the more than one million children without basic reading and writing skills who drop out of school each year. Don't let your precious child become part of that statistic. Help children learn and love to read.