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The Reading Gateway

By Sandra Feldman, President American Federation of Teachers

Reading is the gateway to all learning. More than ever before, education is the path to success in present-day society -- `and it all begins with reading. That's why the American Federation of Teachers and early grade teachers throughout the city want to make sure that all our youngsters can read independently and with comprehension by the time they complete the third grade.

What can you do to prepare your young child to be a better student? Ask teachers, from kindergarten to college, and their answer is -- read to your child. It's the most important thing you can do to help a child learn to read. That's not just a theory anymore -- it's a fact.

It's also one of the easiest things to do. Education and child development experts are telling us to start reading to newborn babies. The sound and the rhythm of your voice as you read or speak causes your baby's brain to develop more and new pathways for learning. Even a tiny newborn recognizes that you are speaking to her and enjoys the attention.

If you read to a child for just 15 minutes every day, your child will question and learn from what he sees on the page. Caregivers who read to children regularly find that a child will memorize an entire story and correct you if you leave a word out. It doesn't matter if you read the same story over and over or a new one each day. Even a book that has only pictures and no words will help a beginning reader. Saying the name of the object makes a connection to the picture and is part of the learning process.

It's important to have reading materials in your home and to set an example by letting your child see you read. New York City is blessed with public libraries in every borough. (The Bronx alone has 34 neighborhood branch libraries all over the borough.) Not only can you borrow the best in children's books, you'll find that most libraries present wonderful programs for youngsters throughout the year, even during the summer.

Here are a few pleasurable ways to introduce a youngster to reading and to keep that interest alive.

Want some more tips on helping your child achieve in school. The teachers union will be happy to send you a valuable brochure called "Home Team Learning Activities" (for the early grades) that offers clear and concise advice on helping your child succeed in school. It covers reading, writing and math supports in the home. It's free and you can get a copy by writing to: AFT Public Affairs Department, 555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

There is no end to the opportunities you can offer your child to make reading as natural as breathing. Start by reading him or her a story -- today.

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