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Parents can pique young children’s interest in reading for fun

SHARE Parents can pique young children’s interest in reading for fun

Teachers and researchers have talked about it for years. Now even politicians recommend quick action to remedy the "reading crisis" in America.

In his weekly radio address last April, President Clinton said, "Studies show that students who fail to read by the fourth grade are more likely to drop out of school, and less likely to succeed in life. But 40 percent of our fourth-graders still can't read at a basic level. We can and we must do better than this."The president's contention is supported by a number of educational studies, including the U.S. Department of Education, which says 90 percent of third- and fourth-graders have not read a book at home in six months.

The Carnegie Corporation concludes children ages 9 to 14 spend more than 20 percent of their waking hours watching TV, but only 1 percent of that time reading.

And the Smithsonian Magazine reports 90 percent of fifth-graders devote less than 1 percent of their free time to reading.

Utah is far from perfect in this regard. Based on National Center for Education statistics, only 6 percent of Utah's schoolchildren are "advanced readers," while 24 percent are proficient, 34 percent read at a basic level, and a frightening 36 percent read below a basic proficiency level.

Most Southern states rank lower, with Louisiana, the lowest of all. A whopping 60 percent of Louisiana children rank below the basic proficiency level.

California is not much better, with 56 percent in the lower ranks, and Hawaii is low, at 54 percent.

To help promote reading, Visa U.S.A. has launched "Read Me a Story," a national children's reading campaign that travels the country in November and December. On Nov. 5, the reading tour will visit Millcreek Elementary in the Granite School District.

Every time consumers use their Visa cards during those months, Visa will make a donation to RIF ("Reading Is Fundamental"), America's oldest and largest children's literacy organization.

Annually, RIF gives 10.5 million books to America's children at no cost to them or their families. Visa has pledged to donate a minimum of $1 million to purchase books for children.

A bookmark, passed out with materials for the Nov. 5 reading day, lists five succinct ways to improve reading for children:

- "Ham it up! Act out the parts as you read them. Use funny voices."

- "Skip the boring stuff."

- "Get personal. Give a character your child's name."

- "Talk it over. Answer questions as you go along and leave time at the end to discuss the story."

- "Wrap things up . . . If you can't finish the story, find an appropriate stopping point."

Gail Sinatra, an associate professor of Educational Studies at the University of Utah, enthusiastically agrees with most of the recommendations.

Sinatra, whose research centers on children's reading development, says she has "a slight disagreement" with one recommendation - "skipping the boring stuff" - for very young children up to the age of two.

She notes the program advises parents of two- and three-year-olds to ask leading questions.

That, Sinatra says, "is a better way to do it. Kids should be given guidance on identifying words rather than skipping them. Second-graders should not be skipping a lot of words. This is a very minor criticism, but I would just leave out the skipping recommendation."

Sinatra strongly endorses the program recommendation that parents and children continue to read aloud, even after the child gains reading proficiency.

"There are a lot of challenging things the children should enjoy, so some of these can be read to them while they read less challenging books on their own. If you only read what a second-grader can read, you're limiting their experience. By continuing to read aloud, you are spurring the child's interest in becoming a better reader."

Noting that "all states need to do better with early reading," Sinatra says Utah can achieve great benefits. "If Utah parents were to really follow the suggestions in this program," Sinatra said, "it would be a wonderful boost for Utah's early readers."

For more information about "Read Me a Story," consumers may call 1-888-703-READ or visit the Web site at (www.visa.com/readme).