Q: My niece was reading by age 4, but my 4-year-old doesn't even know the alphabet. Will flash cards or other aids help her learn?
A: Forget the flash cards, and try to spend more time reading to your child. "Most 4-year-olds don't enjoy the kinds of activities that involve rote memorization," says Dick Allington, Ph.D., spokesman for the International Reading Association in Newark, DE. "But they do love looking through a good book."
While you're reading with your daughter, start building prereading skills by pointing out words that rhyme, asking her to find words that start with the first letter of her name, and teaching her to print her name.
"There are many unstructured, enjoyable ways to teach early reading skills," says Dr. Allington. But there's no need to push too hard. "Even within the same family, different children read at different rates," he explains. The most important thing is learning that reading can be fun.