Changing children's lives for the better is just a small book away, a Wanganui educator believes.

Marton Junction School resource teacher in literacy Lynne Torrie says parents reading to their children daily is such a powerful influence it can set children up for life.

She believes literacy can change lives and awaken potential in children, helping develop the brain as well as fostering loving relationships between parents and child.

"If everybody knew this, kids' lives would be different."

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Mrs Torrie has worked for a number of years in the remedial literacy area and has tried to find a way to prevent children from failing, rather than "fix them up" after they struggle.

She quotes speech-language therapist Professor Gail Gillon, who says that "reading difficulty (and associated academic failure) is a major health and social issue".

The things that happen in the first three years of a child's life determine how the brain develops, Mrs Torrie says.

"We need to be educating parents and supplying them with the knowledge so they can make sure that their children get the best possible start in life."

She points to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who says a child will always reflect the cultural and family context in which he or she is raised.

"If the context is loving, supportive, optimistic, then so too will be that child," Mrs Turia says.

The late Nelson Mandela also inspired Mrs Torrie when he said to "make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning".

Mrs Torrie wants her Awakening Potential - The Power of Reading to Children presentation to go into secondary schools.

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The Ministry of Education has looked at it but is not on board with the potential for students to equip themselves with the knowledge before having their own children, she says.

Rather than wait, Mrs Torrie is reaching as far as she can into communities. There's an urgency in her passion to change lives.

One person asked her how reading could prevent child abuse.

Her response was simple: "When you are reading to your children, you're not abusing them."

And that's where the cycle can be broken, when parents become empowered to teach their children in a loving environment in which a child feels accepted.

Mrs Torrie says it's breaking the cycle.

"You can't change the past, but you can change the future.

"Children are not born bad. How children turn out is the result of their environment.

"It is up to parents to help them develop that potential."

She says a background in books will help children gain high self-esteem, knowledge, good oral vocabulary, understanding and positive values.

And they will achieve this in any language, she says.

"This will lead to a positive future through success, satisfying jobs, positive attitude, good salary, achievement, continued learning and leadership.

"A low literate often results in poor self-esteem, poor oral language, anger, frustration, poor work habits, limited vocabulary and disobedience."

Reading to children is a simple and pleasant activity every day.

"The more they hear, the more they know - and the more they know the easier it is to learn.

"When children find learning enjoyable it means brighter children and a brighter future."

Reading to your children gives more than just pleasure, she says.

They learn about books, words and how words work. And in this discovery they gain new ideas and understandings.

Children gain new ideas and understandings, and learn about rhyme and rhythm. She recites Dame Lynley Dodd's international classic, Hairy Maclary, which has been entertaining children for 30 years.

Reading helps children develop good oral vocabulary because of the "rich language" use, more so than adult television and conversations.

And, through reading, children learn the meaning of new words from the context of the story. "Parents reading to their children is quality time where they learn they are worthwhile, which translates to a feeling of success when they start school," she says.

A staggering fact about literacy is that if every parent and every adult responsible for children read at least three books to children in their care every day, illiteracy could probably be wiped out in a generation.

The Chronicle asked why those who professed to be concerned for children's learning did not take up this challenge.

"The idea is so simple and obvious that it is too difficult for the people who make decisions to see," Mrs Torrie says. "Sometimes they are so bound by rules and regulations they can't see out of the box. If we get it right in the first three years, we get it right for life."