My two granddaughters love books. Their house is filled with them. My daughter has been taking the girls to the library every week since they were toddlers and they always come home with at least a dozen new books for each of them. Now that the seven-year old can read, she carries a book with her everywhere and enjoys reading to her three-year old sister. My granddaughters are fortunate to be growing up in an environment where reading is valued.
In contrast, here are some disturbing statistics about children who do not have this privilege:
- A Harvard University study found that 61% of families living at or below the poverty level have no books in their homes.
- By age three, children living in poverty are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their peers who do not live in poverty.
- Nearly half the children entering kindergarten lack the early reading skills needed for school success.
Raising a Reader
I learned about these obstacles facing young children from Gabrielle Miller, Executive Director of Raising A Reader (RAR). Gabrielle spoke at our November GaGa Sisterhood meeting and gave a compelling argument for the importance of reading regularly to young children.
RAR is a national nonprofit organization offering literacy and parent engagement programs that improve the reading readiness skills of children birth to age five. Their mission is to engage parents in a routine of “book cuddling” with their children to foster healthy brain development, parent-child bonding, and early literacy skills critical for school success. Since its founding in 1999, RAR has served over 700,000 children and grown to 2,500 sites across the nation. The program emphasizes three principles:
- Create new behavior
- Practice it
- Sustain it
RAR implements these strategies by giving each child in the program a bright red bag filled with award-winning books to take home on a weekly basis. The child is exposed to approximately 100 books per year. At the end of the program, there’s a graduation ceremony in red cap and gown. Each child receives a blue library bag to keep and continue the practice of borrowing books and “book cuddling.”
Books are important because they expose a child to vocabulary and syntax that normal conversations don’t always do. Gabrielle encourages adults to look for opportunities to be actively involved in creating a dialogue with their child. Ask what’s happening in the pictures and then be patient while you wait silently for a response.
Encourage a Dialogue with Your Child Using Prompts
Thinking prompts help build language and provide opportunities for children to extend their language.
- Personal connections: ask children to relate the pictures or words in the story to personal experiences outside the book.
- Extension questions: ask questions that extend the responses and comprehension about the story being read (what, where, when, why and how)
Knowledge prompts ask children to remember details of books that help build language and vocabulary.
- Completion is used with books that rhyme or have repetitive phrases and the child fills in the answer.
- Recall is used to ask details after a book has been read.
Picture walks help children get involved with a new book. As the child looks at the pictures of a new book, ask questions about items on the page or what is happening in the pictures.