Saturday, October 10, 2009

The early literacy crisis in America

In spite of certain lawmakers who liken universal preschool to government-funded "babysitting," there's no denying that there's a real need for solid early education in the US.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 35 percent of children enter kindergarten without the skills they need to learn how to read. Those language skills -- things like phonological awareness and knowledge of the alphabet -- are the building blocks of reading, and the best way to teach your children about them is to spend time reading to them. Over at's Child Caring blog, we're discussing ways to help your child learn (and love) to read.

In "The Science of Early Childhood Development," a report by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, studies show that future school success is impacted by the learning foundation set in place in a child's early years. And the long-term effects of an early literacy crisis are chilling. As Ben Russell, assistant director of early childhood education for the Boston Public Schools, ,told reporter Patti Hartigan, when they calculate the number of kids who are not reading at the third-grade level, “We use those numbers to create prisons. And that is a tragedy.”

Jumpstart is a national not-for-profit trying to bridge the early education gap between high- and low-income students. According to Susan Werley, Executive Director of Jumpstart's Northeast region, 61 percent of families from low-income communities lack age-appropriate books for their children; a lack of access to books and of being read to before age 5 are key reasons why this early literacy crisis exists.

Jumpstart provides books to these families and pairs children with trained volunteers who provide one-on-one story time and attention. To bring attention to their cause, they've launched "Read for the Record Day" today (Oct. 8) in Boston. You can support the effort without even opening your wallet by reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to your child today; volunteers are reading it to thousands of children in various places around the city in support of early childhood literacy.

Here are some of the AAP's suggestions for helping your child learn to read (you can find all of their recommendations on their website):

1.) Run your finger under the words as you read to show your child that the print carries the story.

2.) Be animated! Use funny voices, ham it up, and get your child excited about the story.

3.) Pay attention to the pictures. Stop to look at them, ask your child to name things she sees in them, and talk about how they relate to the story.

4.) Invite your child to join in whenever there is a repeated phrase in the text.

5.) Keep reading to your child even after she learns to read. A child can listen and understand more difficult stories than she can read on her own.

6.) Set aside time every day to read together.

7.) Leave books in your child's room for her to enjoy on her own.

How are you helping your children learn to read? Parents of older kids: Do your kids like to read, or do they think that reading is a chore?

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