As a former elementary school librarian, I enjoyed meeting kindergarten children and their families. From their first day in the school library, I could tell which children had been read to in their homes and which had not. The lucky children came to school excited about stories. They knew how to hold books and turn the pages. They had already taken their first steps on the path to reading for enjoyment and learning.
You have heard it said that “parents are their child’s first teachers.” Nothing could be truer. In addition to feeding, sheltering, and clothing a child, literacy is another essential aspect of parenting. There is no one in a better position to do that than a child’s parents and caregivers.
Parents who talk, sing, play, and read to their infants and young children prepare them for success in school and in life. “Read to me and watch me grow/tell me all the tales you know.” Young children who hear more words spoken and say more words in conversations with others are better prepared to read. A research study showed that some children already have a 30 million (!) word gap by the age of three.
No one wants their child to start school behind in language development. High-quality early childhood preschool experiences are important. But in those first two or three years before some children start preschool, a great deal of brain development is already occurring. Talking and singing to an infant from birth is a gift of love and an investment in the child’s future learning.
In addition to talking and singing with a child, reading is a fun and effective way to build a child’s vocabulary. “In picture books and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from other times.” Making meaning from pictures is a baby step on the path to being a reader. Older readers engage young children by pointing to the pictures and talking about what is happening in the book. They ask children questions that are first answered by pointing. Later, a child’s answers will be single words, phrases, and finally full sentences. When children can ask questions about what is being read, they are well on their way to becoming motivated to learn to read.
When children are enfolded in a parent’s arms while reading a book together, they experience reading as an act of caring. “Read the pictures, read the lines./Words to nourish hearts and minds.” Children who are read to develop positive feelings toward books and stories. These feelings help children grow curious about words. Positive feelings about reading support them in making meaning from words as well as pictures.
“Read to me and plant the seed./Make me want to learn to read.” Parents can be very busy and may be unable to provide early literacy learning experiences on a daily basis. That’s when brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other caregivers can step in to make sure the young child is nurtured in these essential ways.
Parents are truly their children’s first teachers. But literacy is a lifelong skill that needs a strong beginning and support throughout students’ schooling. When libraries partner with families, caregivers, health and community organizations, we can elevate literacy in our community.
One shining example of such a partnership is the “Books for Texas Babies” initiative.
This effort began as a collaborative project of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library and Parkland Health and Hospital System. In 2016, they gave 12,000 copies of Vamos a leer/Read to Me to families of newborns and are continuing the project this year. Fort Worth Public Library and the JPS Health Network began their “Books for Tarrant County Babies” partnership in 2017.
Working together, we can ensure that all children have the literacy skills they will need to expand their life choices—skills that are the foundation for college, career, and community readiness. With a shared responsibility and commitment, let’s engage every child in experiences that show literacy is simply an essential part of life.
Note: The quoted rhymes in this blog post are from my book Read to Me.
Moreillon, Judi. Read to Me. Cambridge, MA: Star Bright Books, 2004.
Image Credit: From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon. Used with permission.