Washington reading specialist Jane Ervin felt a book coming on 14 years ago when she began teaching English to high-school seniors who could barely read their names

But it wasn't until recently, when she heard about a 9-year-old girl who drowned because she couldn't read a sing announcing "Beware, Dangerous Currents" that Ervin sat down to Write. The result: "Your Child Can Read, and You Can Help" (Doubleday, 444 pp., $10.95).

"I've always looked for a book to recommend to parents that is not written in educational jargon and shows how to encourage reading easily and naturally," said Ervin, who holds a doctorate in education.

Parents can begin helping a child read the day he is born, Ervin claims.

"You start by doing what comes naturally as a proud parent. You cuddle your baby, quietly talk or sing to him and dangle a toy to attract his attention. All these things awaken the senses that he will eventually need to read.

"Keep your child's ears tuned and eyes popping and help him take a closer look at things." Taking a walk, Ervin says, is "a wonderful time" to develop reading skills. "Point out the similarities and differences between things you see, like trees or dogs.Observation is the key to learning and reading.

"Reading is an extension of talking. One of the most difficult parts of reading is understanding what words mean, so talk to your child, give him a good vocabulary and familiarity with language that he can use when he comes to read the words."

Although children may celebrate summer vacation for "no more teachers, no more books," Ervin says it's an ideal time to introduce children to the joys of a good book.

Here aer some of her suggestions for summer:

Ask your child's teacher or school librarian for a list of books that are simply fun to read. (No book report required.)

Take your child to get a library card and set aside a special day as "library day," billed as a special treat.

Introduce your youngster to the children's librarian, and inquire about summer reading programs.

Expose your child to as many experiences as possible during the summer. If he reads about a monkey escaping from the zoo, he'll have a better understanding if he's been there.

Play vocabulary-building word games when traveling by car.

Keep a book in th car so if you're stuck in a gas line you can read together.

Set a good example by having - and reading - books and magazines at home.

Propose projects and field trips around your child's interests. If he's fascinated by dinosaurs, take him to the museum and get library books on them.

Read together with your child, picking stories above the child's reading level to help improve vocabulary.

To help 3- and 4-year-olds make the transition from talking to understanding printed word:

POINT OUT words on street signs or on food cartons and explain them. If you're cooking together, show the youngster words in the recipe.

LET your child "help" you make the shopping list, write instructions to the babysitter or write to grandma. Or be the child's secretary, letting him "dictate" so he can watch the words go down on paper and hear you repeat exactly what he said.

PLAY games to help the child recognize words and meanings. Pick about 20 simple nouns - like bed, chair, table - and write each on an index card to be placed on the object it names.Then collect the cards and have the child place them on the appropriate objects.

Above all, don't force anything.

"Reading should not be a big deal, so it becomes an ordeal," says Ervin. "It should be an easy, natural part of a child's life, like learning to eat or walk." CAPTION: Picture, Jane Ervin