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By Leslie Crawford

That’s another difficulty for parents: the competition of the glowing screen. I especially have that problem with my teenage son.

That's a whole different issue; that’s a boys’ literacy issue. Girls as a class are far outpacing boys. Jim Trelease, who wrote the The Read-Aloud Handbook, would say part of the problem with boys is electronics and part of the problem is fathers. Fathers take time to take boys to the ball game on Friday, but they should also take time to take them to the library on Saturday. n

You write about the necessity of kids being exposed to words – whether you’re talking to them or reading to them – from early on to get them on the right track.

Even before kids get to kindergarten, it’s important that parents expose their children to as much language as possible. A child’s level of literacy entering kindergarten is a strong indicator of where that child is going to end up in 12th grade. As far as exposure to language, it really is an early-developing-literacy issue. It’s not an IQ issue: it's an access- to-language issue, it’s an access-to-words issue, it's a poverty issue. Children from high-income families are exposed to a lot more language than either middle-class kids or kids who come from poverty. That's not true of every kid, but generally speaking, those are the trends. If your parents see the value of literacy, literacy will develop. I see this with my own students, students who are very, very smart, but they suffer from word poverty. When you have a limited vocabulary, it limits your thinking. You need to read stuff to know stuff. A lot of kids in upper-grade levels can decode but comprehension is not going to happen.

So the kids who experience “word poverty” pay a big price for it?

I stand at the K12 finish line. I teach seniors. If you look at my class, you can point to the kid who loves to read and to the kid who doesn’t love to read. I’ve seen it over the years: good things happen to readers. Almost without exception, my 12th grade students who score high in the verbal ACT or SAT have all been lifelong readers. In fact, I can predict which student is going to score high in the SAT verbal section.

Along with reading to your child, how do you grow a lifelong reader?

Jim Trelease talks about the “three B’s.” When kids are at home they need access to books at the breakfast table. There needs to be reading material in the bathroom. There needs to be reading material in the bedroom.

But even parents who have a lot of books in the house, who encourage their children to read and who read to their children, can end up with a child who spurns reading. What to do if your child has fallen off the reading cliff?

First of all, I’d go into the school and express concerns of what’s happening to my child as a reader. Outside of school, I’d go to nontraditional print. You want to make sure your kids are surrounded with high-interest recreational reading.

Next page: the virtues of "stupid reading."

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

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