In local schools in Hong Kong, children usually do not learn reading as a specific skill, but rather are expected to grasp the process through a mixture of natural ability or osmosis and as part of learning English grammar. Consequently they often either only partially learn to read or not at all. Those children who read fluently in English invariably learn the process at home.
Reading at school is associated with school work and the examination process rather than pleasure. As a result, children either fail to learn to read at an adequate level to be literate or lose their desire to read for pleasure. It is that desire to read and the associated curiosity and interest that is essential to using reading and related skills successfully in life.
The most effective way to encourage your children to love books and reading is to read aloud to them and the earlier you start, the better. Even a toddler can see pictures, listen to your voice, and turn pages. Helping your children enjoy reading is one of the most important things you can do as a parent and it is well worth the investment of your time and energy.
Make this time together a special time when you hold your children and share the pleasure of a story without the distractions of TV or telephones. You may be surprised to find that a well-written children's book is often as big a delight to you as it is to your children.
And don't stop taking the time to read aloud once your children have learned to read for themselves. At this stage encourage them to read to you some of the time. This shared enjoyment will continue to strengthen your children's interest and enjoyment of reading. When you read aloud together, choose books that you both like. If a book seems dull, put it down and find one that is appealing. There are, however, so many children's books in print that making the best selections may seem a tough task.
Simply having books, magazines, and newspapers around your home will help children view them as part of daily life. And your example of reading frequently and enjoying it will reinforce that view. While your children are still very small, it's a good idea to start a home library for them, even if it's just a shelf or two. Be sure to keep some books for little children to handle freely. Allowing little children to touch, smell, and even taste books will help them develop strong attachments.
How you handle books will eventually influence how your children treat them. Children imitate, so if they see that you enjoy reading and treat books gently and with respect, it is likely that they will do the same. Visit a good book store or a local library. The children's librarian is trained to help you locate specific books, such as books that are good for reading aloud, and books on a particular subject recommended for a particular age group. And there's nothing like just browsing through the many books available at your library until you find ones that appeal to you and your kids.
If your children are school-aged, keep in mind that the school library is a source of materials and the school librarian is knowledgeable about children's literature. Encourage your children to bring home books from their school library for pleasure as well as for their studies.