SHAMOKIN - Your little one would be best served if you read this article out loud.

Ruby Michetti, curriculum coordinator at Shamokin Area School District, said the most important activity for parents this summer is reading and speaking to their children.

This is important for children of any age, but especially essential to children who have not yet begun elementary school.

"A child who is surrounded by a rich vocabulary infused world will absorb all those phonetic nuances," said Michetti.

By age 3, a child who is socioeconomically disadvantaged will have heard 30 million fewer words than the average child.

Michetti said its difficult for a child to make up this

loss; by 5 years old, the child will already be two years behind what is normal for their vocabulary skills.

Children who are behind their peers in reading skills will become frustrated and shut down, which compounds the problem as they are reluctant to engage in an activity they find difficult so they do not improve.

"By third grade if they can't read, they will have a very difficult time in school," said Michetti.

Students who begin school disadvantaged are four times more likely to drop out.

"Reading and writing are the fundamental skills for all the cognitive skills," said Michetti. "Everything requires reading."

Michetti said it is important for parents to continuously engage their children by speaking to them.

The average child watches 21 to 23 hours of television each week, said Michetti, acknowledging that some children's programs are more educational than others.

None are nearly as effective as teaching communication skills as real life conversation, she said.

"Watching TV does not teach good communication skills," said Michetti.

Conversation teaches children both speaking and listening, so simply asking your child a question will help with listening comprehension.

"There is no cost to becoming a good reader, listener and speaker," said Michetti. "Time is the expense."

Tips by age

Having children at home for the summer is the perfect opportunity to engage them in language development activities. Here are tips for various age groups:

Infant: Talking, conversation and singing. Describing sights. Reading books repetitively, and pointing to the words and the spaces between the words. Michetti suggests talking about the pictures in the book rather than just reading the text. "It provides a far more enriched setting," she said.

Preschool: Tracing letters in any medium, even sand or paint. Building simple puppets out of paper bags or socks and creating conversations. Having magazines, books and other reading materials present to look at. Creating silly tongue twisters. Allowing children to read the books out loud, even if they do so slowly. "Often we don't give the child the time to read because we read so much faster," said Michetti.

First grade: Reinforcing what words are. Challenging to identify words. Asking questions while reading books like "What do you think will happen? Who are the main characters?" Playing word games like rhyming words. Practicing reading at home.

Second grade: Creating a "writing toolbox" for the child to take everywhere; use a resealable plastic bag or pencil box and include paper and writing instruments. Asking children to describe the story he or she is making up. Emphasizing the parts of a sentence, how it always begins with a capital letter, has a noun and a verb and ends with punctuation. Asking your child to describe daily activities out loud and in a journal. Encouraging children to use real words rather than "thingy" or "stuff." Establishing a reading routine. "Praise them when they read," said Michetti. "Be a role model. Children mimic their parents because they love their parents."

Older children: Engaging children on their interest areas. Offering "alternatives" to books, like comic books or magazines. Asking children to read activity materials, like pamphlets or maps. Playing games like scavenger hunts where children have to read clues. Encouraging book swaps with friends. "The libraries over summer are absolutely filled with fun, active programs," said Michetti.