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Childhood Literacy Is About More Than Just Reading

Today, over 2 million people will congregate in classrooms, libraries, community centers, homes across the U.S. as part of Jumpstart’s 11th annual Read for the Record. Volunteers will read to kids from this year’s book, “Quackers,” an adorable story about a kitten who grows up believing he’s a duck. The purpose of the event is to “highlight the importance of building early literacy and language skills for EVERY child, so that all children have the opportunity to enter kindergarten prepared to succeed.” This is the fourth year that UWSECT has organized a Read for the Record event, and this morning we had 60 volunteers for orientation who came to look over this year’s book, practice songs to sing with the kids, and get to know one another. Our volunteers were a diverse group- local company employees, retired educators, and even a group of high school students. The room was buzzing with energy and anticipation, with people laughing, talking, and reminiscing about their experiences last year, until everyone finally got the green light to head to their assigned locations.

 The volunteers then fanned out to 17 schools across 8 towns to read, sing, and donate books to each school. Each was armed with tips for reading aloud, and it got me thinking. Reading to kids may seem pretty simple, but there are a lot of ways that you can augment the experience to increase literacy, curiosity and development. If you interact with young kids in your daily life, whether you’re a parent, teacher, aunt/uncle, sibling, grandparent, or volunteer, here are some steps from Early Moments and that you can take to ensure that those children develop reading, writing, verbal, and critical thinking skills.


1.      “Add a little playacting. Instead of just reciting the same old story, improvise a little. Don’t be afraid to deviate from what’s on the page. Incorporate different accents for the characters, add drama with theatrical hand gestures, build anticipation by including pauses, and let the emotions of the story register on your face.


2.      Encourage interaction. When reading to your preschooler, pause every now and then to ask questions about the story, wonder aloud about alternate endings, or propose new character names.


3.      Talk about books. The benefits of reading to children don’t have to stop after you’ve closed the book. After sharing a story together, bring it up in conversation throughout the day. Compare a real-life event to something that happened in the book, or ask how they think a certain character would handle a specific situation. Incorporate key vocabulary that was presented in the book, so your child gets an idea of how the words fit into different contexts.


4.      Introduce books in new scenarios. Why wait until bedtime to pull out a book? For babies and toddlers, bath times and mealtimes provide great opportunities for enjoying a story.


5.      Consider joining a book club for children. With the overwhelming number of kids’ books on the market, it can seem like a daunting task to select the ones that are right for your child. When you join a book club for children, you’ll receive hand-picked titles tailored to your kids’ ages and interests. Getting shipments of high-quality children's books delivered right to your doorstep is a great way to encourage excitement about reading.


6.      Explore reading resources for children. The Internet offers an abundance of children's Web sites with creative ideas for promoting early literacy, fun literacy games, and reading tools for children.


7.      Encourage reading outside of books. Throughout a typical day, there are hundreds of opportunities to recognize words and phrases. Challenge your child to find new mediums for reading, whether it’s a billboard, newspaper, cereal box, or storefront sign. This will help your child grasp the significance of reading in the real world and give him a chance to apply what he’s learned.


8.      Introduce your own childhood favorites. Remember those timeless classics you couldn’t get enough of as a kid? Bring them back into the limelight by reading them to your own child. Your excitement for those old beloved stories is sure to rub off on your little one.


9.      Volunteer your reading services. If your child is of school age (or even in daycare), reading aloud to his class is an excellent way to foster his love of books and to demonstrate your support and commitment to his reading success. Most daycare centers, preschools, and elementary schools welcome parent volunteers.


10.  Take field trips to the library. The library is an invaluable reading resource. Acquaint your budding reader with the book loaning process, emphasizing a respect for the facility and the books. Many libraries feature designated story hours, where a librarian reads selections aloud to a targeted age group. Check with your local branch for more activities to promote reading.


11.  Bring Back the Bedtime Book. Less than half of American children under the age of five are read to daily by their parents, according to "Reach Out and Read," a non-profit organization that promotes early literacy. Fitting in just five minutes a day to read your kid a bedtime story builds memory skills, language development and means your child is more likely to learn to read without problems. Don't limit yourself to just fiction. Instead, read a variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and consider a subscription to a children's book or magazine service so there are new things coming regularly for your child to bury her nose into.



12.   Listen. It sounds obvious, but think about how often you listen to music in the car while your kid zones out to a movie or video game in the back seat. David Dickinson, a professor at Vanderbilt University, encourages parents to make the most of everyday opportunities for conversations—like car rides and doctor's waiting rooms. This chatting will not only strengthen your parent/child bond, but it'll expose your budding student to everyday language usage and vocabulary.


13.  Banish Baby Talk. Don't dumb down your language. Using more complex sentence structures and rich language at home will improve your child's grasp of literacy and build a long-term foundation for language. Don't be forced or unnatural—introduce new words in a way that helps them understand it as best you can, and be ready to explain any unfamiliar words. Dickinson suggests parents visit museums, zoos and historical exhibits, using the experience to introduce complex vocabulary.



14.  Scrap the Script. When you're reading to your kid, feel free to deviate from the story. She'll get much more from the experience if you point out details about the pictures, ask her questions about the story, or ask her to guess what will happen next. These techniques will help with comprehension, creativity and inference skills down the road.


15.   Make Your Own Books. Encourage your kid's creativity and help her to write a simple book based on her own story ideas. Cut and stick pictures from magazines, family photographs, or ask your child to draw the pictures that go along with her text.


16.   Expand on School Projects. Talk to your child's teacher to find out what projects and themes the class is working on. If she's learning about the beach, take a walk along the shore and talk about the objects you see. Find library books about the ocean or create an alphabet collage using items collected from the beach, like sand, seaweed and shells for the letter "s."


17. Integrate Grocery Store Learning. The grocery store can be so much more than a chore. Don't rush through the task—take your time and encourage your little learner to help you create the shopping list, read the names of the items and match them to the list. As your kid gets older, grocery tasks can age up as well—soon you'll have a little helper who can fetch items around the store, compare prices and read labels for nutritional information.”


Read for the Record isn’t just about reading for one day- it’s to make childhood literacy and language development a priority every day. Hopefully these tips can help you make that happen, one child at a time!


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