A quiet revolution hits reading world; Change: Two new books give advice to parents on how they can begin their children's literacy development at an early age in the home.


A QUIET LITTLE revolution is going on in the reading world.

The teaching of reading is moving out of the classroom and into the living room. Parents no longer give their children up in blind trust to the neighborhood school for reading instruction. They get started at home when the kids are in diapers.

When children fall behind in school, parents are learning an inescapable truth: They cannot wait for the educators to do something. Reading begins at home, and so does reading remediation.

Two excellent new books offer all the advice a parent needs. Both are written in plain English. Both concentrate on the early years of a child's literacy development. Both suggest numerous learning activities based on a vast body of research. Home-schoolers will find these books invaluable. To tell the truth, teachers also could stand a read-through.

"Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success" (National Academy Press, 192 pages, $14.95 softcover) is based on the work of a committee that studied reading problems in the United States last year and issued one of those thick tomes that few people read.

The committee's work is condensed into a short book addressed primarily to parents. What kinds of language and literacy experiences should they look for in preschool and child care settings, in reading instruction in the early grades?

What activities, based on reliable research, can parents do with kids? Here are what amounts to lesson plans for parents designed to begin as early as the first few weeks of their children's lives.

Numerous illustrations and sidebars are included, including a description of the Baltimore-based Success For All school reform program.

"Starting Out Right" also includes a list of 100 great picture books compiled by the New York Public Library, a guide to computer software, a list of useful Internet Web sites, a checklist of reading accomplishments that are typically achieved by young children, and a glossary for those of us who might not know that "receptive language capacity" is the ability to understand.

The other new book is "Straight Talk About Reading" by Louisa C. Moats, a Harvard-trained, highly regarded expert in reading, and Susan L. Hall, one of many parents who became active after discovering reading difficulties in her children. (She is president of the Illinois branch of the International Dyslexia Association.)

"Straight Talk" (NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, 362 pages, $12.95 softcover) is more polemical than "Starting Out Right," though it also is packed with instructional suggestions. It contains a thorough discussion of the whole language-phonics reading wars and a comparison of the two techniques.

Hall recalls poignantly how she discovered her eldest son's reading difficulties while he was in the first grade. Parents assume, she writes, "that the teacher will be an expert in teaching reading. Their assumption is that the teacher is trained and works for a school district where there are curriculum guidelines. However, none of those factors helped assure that my son learned to read from what his first-grade teacher taught in class."

When The Sun published the first series in the Reading By 9 project 13 months ago, we were flooded with similar statements. We also heard from many parents who had been told by educators not to worry about reading problems, that a child struggling with reading was undergoing "developmental lag."

Beware of that diagnosis, say Hall and Moats. Although some children develop slowly and will benefit from extra time, "research strongly suggests that most cases of reading failure do not spontaneously get better, and children generally do not catch up once they fall behind."

Hall and Moats list ways to determine if a teacher is using effective teaching practices. They present "benchmark lists" to see whether a child is on track in reading. They provide a list of warning signs of difficulty, and lists of recommended books scaled by difficulty.

Need a reading tutor? Hall and Moats tell you what to look for and suggest 12 questions to ask.

Both books advise parents not to worry about "invented spelling" -- writing words the way they sound, but incorrectly, such as "iz" for "is" -- especially among young children learning to write. However, Hall and Moats say parents should worry if children spell words incorrectly for too long.

"The time to expect correct spelling is when the child begins weekly spelling lists," they write.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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