Years ago – more than I care to admit – I was a new dad. Like most people, my wife and I wanted to be good parents so that our kids didn’t turn out to be juvenile delinquents. Thirty- three years later, I think we pretty much succeeded in our effort.

One of the main things we did was to read to them from the time they were big enough to sit in our laps. My oldest son was particularly fond of a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

I didn’t care for the book myself. I think my wife found it at an estate sale or second-hand shop. I think it dated back to World War II. The illustrations were a little on the disturbing side – Little Jack Horner’s head was too big for his body and Humpty Dumpty had this strange, ruddy complexion – but our son, Jeffrey, loved the book, so I spent many hours reading to him.

As our other boys came along, we kept reading. They found it entertaining; it was a bonding opportunity for us.

These days, by the time children start kindergarten, it’s fairly obvious if they have been exposed to reading. They know how to hold a book, their imaginations seem more vivid, and they grasp learning concepts more quickly. They almost always turn out to be better students.

Think about it. Of all the things we learn in school, reading is the one around which all other subjects revolve. History, science – even math – rely heavily on a student’s ability to read. It’s the key that opens the door to everything else in learning. With that in mind, here are some ways to help get your child on the right track when it comes to learning to read.

Expose your child to the alphabet. Why not start as soon as he or she comes home from the hospital? It’s not difficult; get a wall decoration that spells out your child’s name. When they’re a little older, buy a set of alphabet blocks. As they sit in the middle of the floor building towers, they are also becoming familiar with the markings on them, which sets the stage for learning to read as they get older. Teach the alphabet song and then follow it up by showing them the letters the song represents. Pull those alphabet blocks out of the toy box and use them as a teaching aid as you sing.

Read to your child regularly. It stimulates senses and continues the process of learning the alphabet. Picture books are a good tool, since they allow children to learn how letters form words and how words are associated with images. Point to the words as you read so that your child begins to understand how it all fits together. This is the first step in teaching your child sight words – everyday words that become so recognizable that your child doesn’t have to stop to decode them in his head. Start by sounding out small sight words, like “a,” “the,” “big,” and so on.

Make books accessible. By having books in your house, they become familiar objects to your child. Be a good example. Let your child see you read. As he or she gets older, go on a field trip to a library.

Teach them to rhyme. It stimulates oral language skills, but also shows children how letter groups can be manipulated into different words. Oh, and it’s fun (which may be why Jeffrey loved Mother Goose so much).

Ask questions. As your children get older, start asking them questions about what they’ve read. It builds their ability to comprehend what they read and hear.

It wasn’t long ago that we were moving some boxes from storage and ran across that old book of nursery rhymes. Of course, we gave it to Jeffrey the next time we visited. He has two girls of his own now, and Mother Goose continues to do her part to instill a love of reading in a new generation of our family – creepy illustrations and all. •

Keith Mitchell is the Director of Communications and Public Information at Lawton Public Schools. He is a nationally award-winning education writer. He and his wife have three sons.