Making your kid's room one for the books


Now that the school year is in full swing, it's time for parents to test their child's room, along with the rest of the house, for reader-friendliness.

An area set aside for study time or story time should be quiet, comfortable and well-lighted. In tight spaces, that may translate to a nest of pillows on the bed. In spacious surroundings, it may mean a reading loft. In any case, success hinges on whether or not the setup promotes relaxation and concentration. For inspiration and ideas, visit bookstores, libraries or toy shops with children's reading corners.

While you needn't sink big money into creating a custom haven for reading, you should put big thought into how inviting and accommodating it will be for one or two readers. That's because you need to invest time in reading to your children in order to

stimulate their interest, imagination and language development. Let them see you reading alone, too, to demonstrate that grown-ups also enjoy this activity.

Good reading environments don't depend on how many volumes are owned. The library lends materials without charge, and millions of free books are available annually from Reading is Fundamental, an agency that enables young readers to pick the prose they prefer.

To live up to its reading potential, a room not only must have books handy but also must be accessible. A low bookcase in a child's room ideally provides this. "It's very important," stresses children's teacher and author Kathleen Allan-Meyer, "because children then go there by themselves when they want to read."

What else constitutes an environment conducive to reading? Jim Trelease, the Pied Piper of reading aloud to children, polled lifetime readers to find out for "The New Read Aloud Handbook." Besides owning and regularly using a library card, what bookworms had in common were as vital to education, Mr.

Trelease says, as the three Rs. He calls them the three Bs: books; baskets or boxes to hold them; and bed lamps. About the latter, he quips: "Reading in bed is the most important night school a child ever attends."

A lecturer who tracks educational trends, Mr. Trelease believes good readers aren't born that way. They develop the skill through interest fueled at home. Even the comics can fire that interest, he says, quoting research indicating that 90 percent of the top readers indulge in the funnies.

Since a child's relationship with books often begins on a parent's lap, a big overstuffed chair or rocker is high on the list of furnishings that make reading pleasurable. But there are alternate arrangements that work just as well. Consider these:

* The bed: Prop up some pillows and set the stage for a nap or bedtime story session, letting your child choose what's read.

* The floor: Use pillows, futons, carpet squares or bath mats to build a reading fortress on the floor.

* Storage cubes: Stack them so it's easy for you and your child to read sitting side by side on cushions.

"No one is ever too young or too old to be read to," say child-development specialists overseeing Discovery Toys Book Club for 2 1/2 -to-5-year-olds. "Books may change, but the experience remains the active ingredient."

Part of the joy of reading is curling up with a good book and leaving the world behind. One of the coziest places to do that is a window seat.

A wonderful tuck-away, a window seat seems tailor-made for a grown-up and child eager to snuggle up to the delights of children's literature. Situated apart from everyday activity and cushioned for comfort, it's especially tempting during the day when natural light streams in. When filled with man-made illumination, it welcomes young readers at night or when it's dreary out.

If your child's room lacks a window seat, look for an alcove that a handyman can convert to a reading niche. Consult Sunset's do-it-yourself guides on storage or for plans on building reading cubbies. Choose a design with enough shelving for dictionaries and reference books.

To achieve the same effect without much expense, place a love seat or an overstuffed chair and stool in a window recess. If space allows, put shelves or a table next to it for reading matter. What also works in some alcoves is a trunk or chest padded so a child can sprawl on top to read.

rTC While you cultivate reading as a pleasurable pastime, bear this in mind. As with any developmental skill, children learn at different rates. If your child seems to have trouble reading age-appropriate material, it might be wise to have him or her evaluated for learning disabilities. Early intervention may prevent reading from becoming a burden.

Design journalist Ro Logrippo, co-author with Antonio F. Torrice of the award-winning "In My Room: Designing for and With

Children," welcomes ideas for a column on decorating doorways to a child's room. Write to her at Living & Learning Environments, 1017 California Drive, Burlingame, Calif. 94010.

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