A mom approached me after a seminar and said, "Would it be helpful if I crawl into my child's bedroom at night and read Bible stories into my child's ear while he is sleeping?"

Wow! She really wanted her child to learn to read. I was excited by her interest in her child's literacy. But I needed to steer her in the direction of daytime reading.

How can you maximize helping your child learn to read? Let's begin with what is appropriate for children of varying ages.

Birth to 1 year old: board books, books with textures, and toy books are the best bet.

Choose books that have one bold picture per page, with fun themes such as farm animals, colors, or numbers. Your baby can even take plastic books into the bubble bath. Words of some books are actually songs—so don't just read the book, sing the book! Board books make great baby shower presents.

Babies have short attention spans. Stop reading before they get the wiggles or weeps. Just spend five minutes per day introducing your child to the joy of reading.

Reading goals for children at this age are:
· Looking at the book and touching it.
· Listening to the sounds of reading.
· Seeing that pages turn.
· Expecting a new surprise on every page.

Toddler, two to three years old: bigger board books, books with sound push buttons, and books with fun wordplays will make your toddler happy. Ask relatives to give your child books as birthday or holiday presents.

Toddlers like to walk, run, and do almost anything other than sit on your lap. This is when animal crackers, raisins, or half a sandwich are helpful. Give your little one something to eat to help him focus. Sit him on your lap with an engaging book, and read it with an engaging voice!

Reading goals for children at this age are:
· Helping you choose the books to be read.
· Looking at the book and quietly listening to the story, or interacting with helpful noises when appropriate.
· Helping turn the pages. (Make it extra fun by "beeping," so he knows when to turn the page.)
· Pushing a sound button when you get to rebus pictures. (Rebus is a picture instead of a word on the page.)
· Putting the book back into a basket or other container when you are finished.

Be sure to pay attention to your child's body language. Stop reading before he gets tired, and while it is still fun. But be ready—he may want you to read the same three books every day for two weeks!

Preschool, three to five years old: fiction and nonfiction picture books, rhyming and wordplay/alliteration books are great at this age. (Alliteration is words that all begin with the same letter.)

A child's listening vocabulary is huge. She is interested in both fiction and nonfiction. Reading begins in your child's ears. So read lots of Dr. Seuss and other rhyming books.

Kids love books about snakes, frogs, and whales. Your local library has picture books about cowboys, talking ducks, and even coyotes that steal blankets. Give your child a beginning-to-read Bible to read together. She will love stories about Adam and Eve, Moses' burning bush, and Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life.

Reading goals for children at this age are:
· Choosing and handing the book to you upside up.
· Learning how to rhyme.
· Looking at the print as you read. (Run your finger under the words that you are saying; your child will learn that reading goes from left to right, and top to bottom.)
· Matching the words you are saying to words she sees on the page.
· Controlling her body during the twenty minute reading time together.
· Memorizing the contents of fifty preschool books.1

Establish a consistent, daily reading time with your child. This is the most important stage of prereading: your child needs to master rhyming, increase her listening vocabulary, and learn how print works on the page. She will be ready for kindergarten with these skills in her pocket, instead of a wocket!

Kindergarten to 2nd Grade: emergent reading books, schoolbooks, picture books, and chapter books. Your child can get books from the school classroom and library. Augment his reading selections by weekly trips to the library. It is essential for children to have access to tons of fun, exciting, informational books. Research shows that becoming a good reader has to do with the numbers of words a child has read.

Did you know that only 100 words make up half of all print?2 Don't worry when your child rereads Dr. Seuss over and over. Even though the book may be simple, your child is doing an important work—becoming more fluent in reading those 100 words.

Your child should be reading out loud for at least thirty minutes per day. Don't forget to read additional books to him. When he listens to reading selections above his reading level, his vocabulary and concepts knowledge are increased.
Reading goals for children at this age are:
· Learning alphabet letter sounds to a quick, automatic level.
· Applying phonic skills by reading stories that incorporate those skills.
· Learning how to read out loud fluently.
· Mastering two emergent reading books per week.
· Increasing her sight word knowledge.
· Finally, being able to read chapter books silently, with good comprehension.

Does your child want to watch television or play computer games instead of
reading? Give him a coupon good for ½ hour of fun activities for each ½ hour he has read. Or, do some DEAR time (Drop Everything and Read) when everyone, including you, finds comfortable seats on a sofa or pillow in the corner, and curls up with a book or newspaper.

This is what I said to the exuberant mom after the seminar. "Don't read into
your child's ears while he's sleeping! His brain is busy organizing and creating pathways. Besides, your child needs to rest from having listened to all the wonderful reading you did with him during the day!"

Peggy M. Wilber is a teacher, author, and speaker with a mission of helping children learn to read well. She has been diagnosing and remediating elementary and middle school children's reading disorders since 1987. Her education includes a Masters of Education from Boston University and Certification in Early Childhood Reading Instruction from University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, specializing in integrating reading methodologies.  Peggy has worked alongside the team at Cook Ministries to create Rocket Readers a biblically based reading program designed to teach children to read using Scripture. Visit www.cookministries.com

1. See The Best of Reading Programs.
2. Edward Fry, Jacqueline Kress, and Dona Lee Fountoukidis, The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists, 3rd ed. Paramus, (NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1993), 23.