Preparing children for reading and language fluency begins at birth. Parents can do so many things that are fun and a natural part of living with children that they don't have to worry about ''teaching'' their children to read.
Talk to your child. Talk while the child is being fed, held, bathed. Never use baby talk. Talk to your child as if he or she is a rational human being, which is accurate.
As children grow older and begin to respond with language, encourage them to talk and to ask questions. The more children use language and play with it in many situations, the more proficient they become.
Provide children with a rich variety of language. Talk about things you see as you are traveling or shopping. If you go to a store and a child notices a worker changing a store window, discuss the reason and the fact that the ''dolls'' are called mannequins. There is a big difference between using words in a natural context and in expecting a child to ''learn'' a word. Young children should be exposed to language in its infinite diversity, but not expected to master it at a young age.
Play games with children. Young children love rhymes, and reading or reciting nursery rhymes over and over with children is a favorite form of play. Many rhymes have actions that can be added by children in appropriate places. Games of peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek are also important in development.
Children love the sounds of language and respond to its patterns. Nonsense poetry, such as ''Jabberwocky,'' and the poetry and prose of Milne's Pooh stories are examples of the enjoyable yet meaningful language and patterns children should hear.
As children begin to talk, they will go through several stages that are natural and can't be hurried or changed by any amount of ''correction'' by parents. Relax and enjoy each stage. The best thing parents can do is to provide a good language model and to expand and extend children's language without correcting them.
The most important thing you can do for children to help them become readers is to read to them. Read to them from birth and as often as possible.
Try to read every day. Research has shown that the one factor that makes a difference in children's ability to read in school is how much they were read to before they came to school.
It certainly makes sense. Written language is different from spoken language in its patterns. Therefore, the more children have heard the patterns of written language, the more capable they will be at breaking the code.
Another important reason for reading often to children is to establish the importance and fun of reading. If children see that their parents value reading and share this pleasure with them, they will have stronger motivation to learn to read.
When children begin to pick out words in stories you read, or to point out words in familiar signs, encourage them. Stop your reading occasionally when you come to a word you are sure they know and allow them to read the word. If a child really loves a word and uses it over and over, you might print the word on a card and let the child read it and start a collection of important words for that child. This is not to say that you choose words and teach your child to read. Rather, you listen to your child and encourage the developing reading process. Don't quiz your child on the words; only listen when the child wants to read them.
Encourage your child to take risks in reading. Making mistakes is a natural part of learning to read, just as it is in everything else we learn. Emphasize what a child does right and ignore the mistakes. Beginning reading is a guessing game and should be fun, not work.
Use a wide variety of reading material with your children. With infants it really doesn't matter whether you are reading a newspaper, magazine, or gothic novel. What matters is that they hear the rhythm of written language. After the child is a year old, begin to concentrate on children's books. Don't hesitate to share the newspaper or other adult reading, however.
Again, use a variety of children's books. Read some that are very simple and with repetition the child can begin to recite. Read others that are complex and involve more listening. Your child will quickly let you know which are favorites. When he or she begins to have a good command of oral language, try some wordless books and let him supply the words to tell the story. Include traditional tales as well as many of the wonderful modern stories available for children. Informational books are also good.
The following are several books I believe are particularly good for children and are worth buying to begin a personal collection. Owning books is a good way to help one want to become a reader. You will choose many others as your children establish their favorites from the ones you bring home from the library.
Ahlberg, Janet and Alan, ''Each Peach Pear Plum'': Viking, 1978.
Anno, Mitsumasa, ''Anno's Counting Book'': Crowell, 1975.
Bayley, Nicola, ''One Old Oxford Ox'': Atheneum, 1977.
Brown, Margaret Wise, ''Goodnight Moon'': Harper, 1947.
Brown, Margaret Wise, ''The Runaway Bunny'': Harper, 1942.
Carroll, Lewis, ''Jabberwocky'': Warne, 1977.
Chorao, Kay, ''The Baby's Lap Book'': Dutton, 1977.
Crews, Donald, ''Freight Train'': Greenwillow, 1978.
Hoban, Russell, ''Bedtime for Frances'': Harper, 1960.
Lobel, Arnold, ''Frog and Toad Together'': Harper, 1972.
Milne, A. A., ''The World of Christopher Robin'': Dutton, 1958.
Milne, A. A., ''The World of Pooh'': Dutton, 1957.
Sendak, Maurice, ''Where the Wild Things Are'': Harper, 1963.
Turkel, Brinton, ''Deep in the Forest'': Dutton, 1976.