Help your children to read!
If your children take to words the way ducks take to water, most of your parental worries about their education will disappear.
The easiest way to make a difference is to start when they are small. No baby is too small to sit in your lap while you ‘read’ them a book. Start as early as you can and keep it going, long past the time they really fit in your lap.
Picture books are a great place to start. Even when there are no words, your children will learn about the paradigms of reading. You find a comfy spot. You hold the book so that the pages are like so. You read the left side page first. You look carefully at pages to get all the information the author provides.
Discuss the pictures and decode the story together. Some books have great visuals to play with. For example, Good Night Moon has a little mouse that can be found in most pictures. Searching for the mouse gets your children even more engaged with the book, providing them a way to interact, so that before they can read, they can help tell the story.
If your children would rather read comic books, let them. Reading is reading. While you are out shopping ask for help decoding packaging, study the box to see if a new toy requires batteries, help them work through their options on the menu. It’s all reading.
As your children get older, don’t feel you can only share books that are at their age or reading level. As you’ve probably noticed, children’s aural vocabulary (the words they understand when they hear them) is much higher than their visual vocabulary (the words they know when they see them). The more big words they hear, the more they will learn. If you notice you are introducing a new word, you can discuss it together and try to guess the meaning from the context. If you don’t stop for a lesson, just hearing the word used will give your children some tools to decode it and, later, match it to its written representation.
Get caught reading. Let your children see you read: books, magazines, newspapers. When they come to think of reading as a special, grown up activity that brings you joy, there will be little to stop them from mastering it themselves.
The U.S. Department of Education cites many resources available to parents who want additional assistance with helping their children to read. Please visit http://www2.ed.gov/parents/read/resources/edpicks.jhtml.