Dear Educators, Parents and Partners,
Racial injustice has plagued our country for centuries, and despite progress in many sectors, people of color are still overwhelmingly likely to be subject to tragic police brutality and fatal incidents. The sad incidents of the past few weeks, exacerbated by those who fan the fires of hatred and racial inequities will leave another layer of scars on all our children.
Black and Brown people in our nation are far more likely to be infected and die from the novel Corona Pandemic. The massive layoffs drag down a high percentage of Black and Brown families already struggling behind white neighbors.
The extended school shutdowns will leave children of color even further behind their peers, and more likely to be home without adequate supervision; much less access to high speed internet and full screen devices essential to leaning during this unprecedented crisis. These same children live in the scrublands of book deserts during the best of times. With summer schools and community programs cancelled or curtailed; the inequities grow starker every day.
The indisputable fact is that bias and systemic oppression of marginalized communities are deeply intertwined with many aspects of our culture and society. This is just one more form of intolerable racism that we all must work to recognize and overcome
We at Kids Read Now believe it is critical for the future of our country that we collectively and proactively engage in the difficult conversations to define equity and take action to create a more equitable system.
When I was younger, belligerent neighbors vandalized our home and a week later I was screaming in terror in the Audubon ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. A few years later, I was tear gassed in Washington at a peaceful demonstration that turned ugly with aggressive police presence. Sadly, this year feels like the 1960’s all over again.
We can, we will, we MUST do better.
Speaking up for the oppressed, working for justice, helping the disadvantaged is what we all need to do. Today more than ever.
Mailing 350,000 books to families over this extended summer is one way we strive for equitable home-learning, and assuring we deliver books to boost literacy, delivered to homes, overcoming the Covid quarantine measures.
We appreciate that our community of partners, educators and parents are committed to making a real difference.
My hope is that, together, we can help, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “bend the arc of history toward justice.”
Much of our current educational system maintains the late 19th- and early 20th-century methods that build it. At that time, students learned the basics, preparing them for urban life which translated into a job in a factory. The industrial model became more efficient by standardization, which then emerged in the schools. Better students became better workers and citizens. This common goal meant that all students were taught the same thing in the same way.
Today we are faced with a new revolution, one where massive amounts of data are becoming the key feature. This flood of data is improving the industry in ways that the people of the early 20th century could not dream. It is leading to the personalization of many sectors, with Netflix and Amazon being two significant examples. Both of these platforms utilize data from the people using them to customize their experiences. Such data collection now affects every aspect of life in the 21st century, including education.
With computers being used more and more frequently in the classroom, it is becoming more feasible to gather data about how students learn best. This data comes from both the programs the students are interacting with and the observations of teachers in the classroom. Many educational management systems, like Google Classroom and Blackboard, allow teachers to see how often students communicate. Other programs adapt to what students are learning, and how fast they are learning the subject matter.
These technologies provide data that educators can use. This data can be recorded, stored, and used by teachers in future classes to develop plans that adapt to student learning needs. Not only can they adapt to the pace, but they can also adapt to topics that students find more engaging. On a larger scale, districts can use this information to see what curriculum is effective, and what is not. This can help them keep what the students are learning more relevant, and therefore keep them more engaged.
On a larger scale, data collection improves when students learn. There is an experiment going on in California right now that pushes the edges of how data can impact student learning. Information gathers via through Fitbits, cameras, and a variety of other tracking mechanisms and uploaded to a cloud. There, engineers access the data, analyze it, and report it back to the school. Should we teach math before or after lunch? How can we address the restlessness in class that happens at 10 AM every day? These are questions they are trying to solve to see if they can create the ultimate in customization of the educational experience.
Gathering information plays a big part in the Kids Read Now program. The data we collect helps districts see who is participating during the summer, what they are reading, and how that reading affects their test scores. What we have provided shows the impact of our program over time on students and on their ability to read.
The amount of data in a classroom is vast. Utilizing data to improve educational outcomes is being explored at the dawn of the 21st century. Much like industry affected the 20th-century class, data and customization are impacting education in the 21st century. Not only will the collection and customization of data improve state and federal educational metrics, these processes also will optimize the learning experiences for students. The information is all there, just waiting for schools to use.
There are, on average, 180 days in an elementary school year in the United States. Each day is roughly seven hours. That time does not include weekends for students. Months of school and hours of homework are not always enough to cover every topic. Fortunately, there are many more hours in the day that can be utilized for a wide range of lessons. This trend of “expanded learning” has become popular with parents and teachers alike in many school districts.
Expanded learning gives parents the chance to supplement what students are learning in the classroom. It can be more information about subjects they are learning in school, or about topics that they find interesting and want to explore on their own. It can also be a way to keep their minds active over a long break, like winter or summer.
To assist with educational growth, as well as personal growth, here are some resources and suggestions that can help:
Community Partnerships: Schools and parents can partner with community organizations to help students. These partnerships can support the students’ education, as well as help with their other needs such as clothing, meals, or medical services. While the schools themselves may not offer such additional services, they may have lists of organizations that do.
Family Engagement: Parents are a wealth of knowledge! A growing amount of research shows that the single biggest factor in determining student success is parental engagement. Working at home can be facilitated by community partners and schools. Supporting students outside of school is an important part of a child’s education.
A Disparate Team of Educators: To stretch the learning experience as far as it can go, multiple perspectives should be taken into account. The more people that can offer input on educational activities, the better the end results for the students. With a group of teachers, parents, community leaders, and professionals that communicate well, student experiences can greatly enhance lessons.
Here are some things to consider when involving students in these activities:
Programming Supporting Lessons: Any activities outside of school hours should reinforce what is going on in class. These do not have to be lessons that come from a lesson plan. They could be social skills, playing games, or anything else that would be a benefit in class. These offer possibilities to reinforce soft skills that help social interaction and emotional intelligence.
Voluntary Participation: Self-selected lessons are the best lessons, because the students are more engaged. Their natural curiosity takes over when presented with something they want to know. This is an excellent opportunity to engage them in topics they want to know that are not part of their school lessons. It can be a chance for them to dive into topics they showed interest in during class, but ones that did not fully fit into their schedules.
Assessing the Results: Every time you work with another organization, you want to make the experience better the next time. After you have completed an expanded lesson, take time to review the experience. Were your children engaged or distracted? Did they jump into certain parts of the lesson and avoid others? How did they react when they came home?
Programs like Kids Read Now provide ways to support and encourage student learning outside the class. To find more programs like ours, start by asking your school what activities they offer for expanded learning. If they do not have what you need, they can often recommend organizations you can contact. Your local library is a great place to start looking for after-school activities for students as well. It often has programs geared to many interests or can point you to places that offer them.
When you bring learning outside of the classroom, it enhances and reinforces what is going on in the classroom. Creating lifelong learners means teaching them early that discovering new information can happen anywhere, at any time…even outside of a class.
Lisa Soricone is associate research director for the Building Economic Opportunity Group at Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. Soricone works to help low-skilled adults advance to careers that can support families, while enabling employers to build and sustain a productive workforce.
Can you describe how the populations you work with end up without literacy or numeracy skills?
Soricone: A lot of them are people who dropped out of school and don’t have a GED, so they never got the education to become fully literate. We also work with immigrants whose education level could range from some primary school to college-level work, who are held back by literacy and/or a language barrier. There are also segments with undiagnosed learning disabilities.
But, there are also folks who have made it through a K-12 system and gotten their high school diploma, but never actually became fully literate. What’s worse is that for many of these people, it’s been such a long time since they engaged in any real literacy activity that the skills they did gain during their education have now deteriorated. So, if they want to go back to community college or train for a technical certificate, they don’t have the skills to complete those programs—even if they have the credentials needed to enter them.
I think there’s starting to be a greater recognition of this problem. In recent years, we’ve seen tighter expectations around high school graduation and efforts to not let folks get promoted to the point where they have a high school credential but still can’t read. States like Massachusetts instituted testing programs to make sure kids are getting these basic literacy skills as they move through the education system.
One thing that’s clear is that the problem of low literacy among adults isn’t just going to go away. Periodic national and international assessments of adult literacy have shown no real change in adult literacy levels over the last ten years. That creates this bimodal economy where you have the well-off, highly-educated on one end, and then this other group of mostly poorer people who lack the reading and math skills they need to access the education and training that could help them get ahead.
What are the consequences you see for people with poor literacy skills?
Soricone: The number one problem is that it limits the kinds of jobs people can attain. Without literacy skills, people are stuck in low-end jobs, which limits the income they can achieve. That’s why such a high percentage of the populations we serve tend to be lower income.
But it hurts employers too. Many companies have trouble filling what we call middle-skills jobs—occupations that require specialized education and training, but not a four-year college degree. There’s a shortage of people with those skills in many areas. But that, in itself, isn’t so bad. I hear plenty of companies say, “We’ll teach the technical stuff. Give me somebody who’s ready to learn, who will show up and work hard.” But the problem is, without the baseline literacy and numeracy skills, adults simply can’t learn the technical skills required for these jobs, even if employers are willing to teach them.
You’ve talked about “contextualized literacy” as a solution to this issue. Can you explain it?
Soricone: The idea of contextualization is that instead of just teaching these abstract literacy skills in a vacuum, you do it in the context of a topic that’s meaningful for folks. That means folding literacy and math lessons into the training required for these middle-skills jobs.
So, if someone with literacy issues wants to train for credentials to become a hospital employee, we’d teach them math skills using health-related examples. We’d develop their language, reading, and critical-thinking skills using information that relates to healthcare. It makes the literacy lessons much more concrete, and lets students work toward their career goals at the same time.
This is nothing new. The state of Washington has had a lot of success using contextualized literacy to teach adult students through its I-BEST program for over ten years. They’ve found that students learning basic skills in the context of, say, an automotive program or a manufacturing program were more likely to earn college credits, obtain occupational certificates, and make basic skills gains than non-I-BEST students.
What’s the best way to deliver this contextualized literacy education?
Soricone: You need a bridge between adult education and occupational training and a big part of that bridge is already built in community colleges. That’s where adult education is already taking place in many states. It’s where Washington’s I-BEST program has thrived, and at Jobs for the Future we’ve brought their model to community colleges in states like Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Georgia with great results through an initiative called Accelerating Opportunity (AO).bIn the classroom itself, AO uses a two-teacher model. There’s a regular adult education teacher attending to literacy development, and a technical instructor who conveys the relevant content around the job skills being taught. The two teachers are able to frame things in a way that is really accessible to those adults, which helps them grasp that material much more quickly. And, at the same time, they’re building their reading, writing, and math skills in the context of that work.
It not only accelerates the process, but it also opens up access to higher education to people who may not have ever entered college because it might have taken them too long, or they would have been discouraged by the difficulty of the material. An integrated approach like that of AO makes college education more accessible.
You can check out the results so far in our implementation report, Accelerating Opportunity. In the seven states where we’ve implemented the model so far, 35 percent of the 10,000-plus students who have enrolled have earned 12 or more college credits, resulting in over 1,400 job placements.
What’s the role of employers in these programs?
Soricone: We need employers to partner with community colleges to infuse these programs with really relevant skills, and ensure that people are learning the skills companies actually need. That can be a challenge in community colleges. The needs of employers change quickly, so they need to communicate with community colleges and help them keep curriculums up to date. While not all AO student sub-groups experienced earnings gains, AO students recruited from adult education in Kentucky and from Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Kansas had strong and sustained positive earnings impacts.
Employers can also help by providing work-based learning opportunities, on-the-job training, internships, that kind of thing. Those programs get students into the career pathways that are already built, more quickly.
What about apprenticeship programs and the like for younger folks? Could high schools be doing more to prepare students to move directly into jobs?
Soricone: I think there’s a lot they could be doing. There are some schools that offer career exploration as early as middle school. I’m not saying every kid should have to go to vocational school, but they need to be exposed to different career choices and have an understanding of what adults do all day. These things wouldn’t be all that hard to put in more classrooms, especially with today’s technology. Things like virtual job shadowing could easily be built into the curriculum and still work toward the traditional education goals of high schools. So I think it would really be great to see this approach at schools across the board, so that kids everywhere can be college and career ready. But I don’t think we’ve figured out how to do that yet.
One simple part of that is helping kids understand, “What kinds of things am I interested in? What do I like to do? And, based on that, what are some different careers that could make sense for me? How are the lifestyles different for different careers?” And the next, more complicated question for educators is, “How is work going to change over the next 20 or 30 years?” We need to figure that out to get kids in the best possible position to succeed.
Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Sitting down with a good book for pleasure is much different than sitting down to go over tax documents or reading a book that you are analyzing for a paper. Readers relax when they read for pleasure. They make a comfortable space and do all they cannot be interrupted while they devour tales of trips to far off places, unlikely romances, and conflicts for the heart of the world. It can be about historical figures that made a significant impact on society or events that changed the direction of society. Reading for pleasure does not have to be fiction!
Reading for pleasure starts with the adults. Administrators, teachers, and parents all have to show that reading is as much a fun activity as it is a necessary activity. Any teacher, even math and science teachers, can read to young students at the beginning of class. Let the parents know what their child liked, and did not like, and help them build a library at home. Or encourage students to go to the school or community library and find books they love.
What reading for pleasure has to be, though, is self-selected. Teachers and parents who hope, or make, children read books outside of class that are “better for them” blunt some of the pleasure otherwise found in the book. As children’s book author Neil Gaiman once pointed out in a speech about libraries,”Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.” It is a route to other benefits as well.
Reading for pleasure does not make them better at reading; it makes them better at learning. The British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children that read for fun are not just better at reading and English, they are better at all subjects. On a longer timeline, they have a better vocabulary as adults as well. In fact, whether or not a child reads for pleasure at a young age can have more impact on their educational growth than socioeconomic status.
Another benefit that reading for pleasure has uncovered is better empathy and decision making. The stories that people read often show characters interacting in a variety of situations. Children get so engrossed in the book that their brains would react as if the events were happening in the real world. A fourteen-year-old who participated in one of the studies commented that “sometimes when big stuff happens in my life, I’ll think about what my favorite characters would have done, the ones I admire most. … They all have different approaches, different ways they approach things, and then I try to apply that to my life, to see which way works for me.” The situations they see in books give them social clues to how people react to various experiences.
This understanding of socialization does not just come from what they are reading. Like any other hobbyist, readers often interact with other people that love reading. These interactions help students develop social skills at a young age. Students learn how to share opinions at a younger age as well as building their understanding of other cultures and perspectives.
Extending that love of reading to the home is equally important. Have books ready to be read at any place around the house. Instead of watching television, have a family reading night. Once your children are reading on their own, spend time reading books you like with them for pleasure. It can encourage them to ask about the book and possibly introduce them to a whole different subject or series!
Reading for pleasure has benefits that go beyond the scholastic. By giving students choices about what they want to read, a lifelong reader is created. Practice allowing your child to read what they want and see where it takes them!
Written by Kelli Marie Cedo, an English/Language Arts Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Lead for Hampton City Schools in Hampton, VA. Previously, she was principal of Forrest Elementary School in Hampton. Cedo has also served as Title I coordinator, division contact for school improvement, literacy coach, academic coordinator and family engagement liaison in Virginia Beach, VA.
It was back in 2011, when I was Title I Coordinator at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, that I first understood just how serious the summer reading gap is—and first realized that a solution to this problem is within the grasp of our schools and our communities.
Researchers have long demonstrated that a lack of access to books over the summer months is academically devastating for lower-income students. The reading level of these students typically regresses by between 1 and 3 months over that period, while that of their high- and middle-income peers—even at the same school—stays constant or improves.
This outcome is not surprising, as the average low-income home contains between zero and three books, while a high-income home typically has 40 to 60 books. Higher-income children are also much more likely to participate in summer learning programs and visit public libraries while school is out. And, as research by the U.S. Department of Education has made clear, children will engage in more independent reading when they have greater access to books.
Our hope was that by providing texts for the home and working together with families to build a culture of reading, we would achieve real impact in closing the summer reading gap. To see if we had been successful, we undertook statistical analysis of K-5 students’ Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) across all 13 of our Title I schools in the fall of 2013.
The results were better than we’d dared to hope. In all, 73 percent of students did not backslide in the reading level over the summer, and 39 percent had actually improved their reading levels while out of school. Over the previous summer, before our program had built momentum in earnest, around 70 percent of K-5 students had regressed in their reading levels.
To complement this quantitative data, we also surveyed parents, teachers, and principals on their experience of the program. The feedback we gathered was a rich source of learning–and encouragement. For example, one parent reported, “Having this home library changed the way our family interacts with reading.”
Another said “Our children are so happy when they get a new book for their library. Each child keeps their library neat and organized and they do indeed use it to choose books and read. It is their space and their books. From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate having the home library helping us further our children’s education. It is something that we could not have done without the school’s program.”
Even after the success of our 2013 summer program, we were anxious about whether we’d be able to keep up the momentum and achieve impact across a much larger group of students and families. But when they ran the analysis of the expanded program in the fall of 2014, the results were hugely encouraging. A total of 70 percent of students had not regressed in their reading levels–and 35 percent had improved in their reading assessment. Our community had really sustained the program. Again, this was a major improvement on previous years.
We gathered feedback once again, and were thrilled with the positive response from both parents and educators. One first grade teacher said:
“The summer reading program was great. I worked at quite a few of the sessions and it was wonderful to see the children excited about the books and activities; many of our students do not go to the public library and parents often have difficulty picking out books at their child’s reading level. We had many of the children who attended the sessions regularly and it helped keep them from losing their momentum over the summer. The librarians who came from the public library were great at engaging the children.”
One of our Title I principals emphasized, “Children take pride in things that belong to them. The summer reading program builds on that pride by placing books into the hands of children who take pride in reading to find out what is inside.” He reported that more than 30 families participated in his school’s program, attending weekly events at the school library throughout the summer which were supported by the local public library. “Although it seemed to be common sense that it would benefit the children participating,” he said, “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the actual data, as measured by the DRA, also demonstrated the success of reducing the ‘summer slide.’”
The number one lesson is simple: Summer matters. The second lesson is a tougher one for decision-makers to accept: Mitigating the summer reading gap takes resources. Funds must be found for an ongoing supply of texts, community outreach, and summer programming–in a context where funding is finite.
All of us who care about literacy must go out and argue for resource investment with passion and confidence, pointing out that this investment creates proven returns for students in the short term, and increases economic prosperity for the country in the long term.
Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
As we are getting to the final months of the school year, it may become more of a challenge to keep students engaged in learning. This might be the perfect time of year to introduce some activities that will challenge your students to explore new books, or to spend more time reading and less time looking out the windows during sunny, warm days.
One thing that many educators and researchers have found is that play helps students want to learn. Tell them they have to spend time reading every day and they may have a difficult time committing to it. Turn it into a game where readers get rewarded for the amount they read, or bring in surprises for certain milestones, and they will want to do the reading.
Stuck for ideas? We have looked around the internet and found a few thought starters for you:
- Musical Books! Put all the chairs in your classroom in a circle, with a different book under each chair. Play music while the students walk around the ring of chairs. When the music stops, the students sit down and read whatever book is under the chair. After the game is over, place all of the books you used in the game on a separate shelf so students can read them later.
- Read-A-Thon! There are two ways to accomplish this one! The first is to set a number of hours for students to read over a week or a month. Encouraging them to read at least fifteen to twenty minutes a day is the ideal. For a week, that would mean about two hours of reading. Or set aside one full day of class time and read as much as you can in the one day. Cover the subjects you would normally cover over that time, but spend the time reading and discussing the books read. You can even encourage parents, teachers, and other school officials to come and join you!
- Reading Puzzle! Divide a picture into the exact number of pieces as students in your class. Then have them all select a book, either randomly or one that they want to read. Once they finish the book, they can add their puzzle piece to the picture. You can also make it a class assignment by letting them know the number of books they have to complete to see the whole puzzle, and offer a small prize to the ones who read the most books!
- Set up a reading scavenger hunt! All of your students have different interests, from sports to science. Building a reading list based on all the interests of your class is a way to get students to learn about a wide variety of subjects. Ones they may not have had thought of before, or thought they would like!
- Choose a subject! Children can get focused on a subject and really dig in deeply. They will discover a topic and read every book they can about it in the library. One way to mix up the books that they read is to introduce some chance. Have them roll dice or select cards, with each number related to a different topic. When they finish a book, they get a new opportunity!
Turning reading into a game, or some other challenge, can be a way to encourage students to get out of their reading comfort zone. Brief glimpses at new books could open up whole to worlds to the right student. Providing the spark in a safe, fun way allows the students to try something they may not have considered exploring themselves.
If you need suggestions for books, reaching out to involve the parents or speaking to the school librarian can help you find the right books to have your class read. Of course, asking the student can also provide a wealth of ideas for what they want to read. Now begins the challenge of creating the event for your class!
Ah, Valentine’s Day!
A day in which we show the people who are important to us just how much we care for them. Much of that affection is shown through red and pink gifts of candy, cards, and maybe a trinket or two to play with, but the best gift you can give a child is time.
From birth through the time children go to college (age 18), there are 936 weekends. That sounds like a lot of time until you consider that when they start hitting middle school years, they will have activities, sports, friends, and all manner of other entertainments to occupy their time. Those weekends can go quickly, and when you think about how fast that time can fly, it’s easy to see the value of sharing time with your child whenever possible.
The gift of time relies on the quality of the time and much as it does the quantity. Being in the same room together doing different activities is not the best gift you can give; focusing on the child is the real gift. The importance of time spent focusing on children holds true in school as much as it does at home.
Countries like Finland, considered the gold standard in education by many, spend roughly 700 hours in front of students, while in the United States we spend nearly double that. Spending time does not have to be hours on end. It can be playing a tabletop game or cooking a meal together. Reading is a fantastic way to spend a little time together.
Selecting the right books can be a springboard for other activities through the year; as your child asks questions, you can plan events to help them answer them. As a teacher, you can develop lessons in the future that address student questions while still fulfilling state requirements.
What other gifts can spending time with books provide?
- Building a love of books – Young children will mirror the activities of the people around them that they love. If they see their favorite teacher, or parent, enjoying the time they spend reading, they are more likely to pick up a book for pleasure.
- Expanded vocabulary – The more children read, the more they are going to have to learn the meaning of the words in their favorite books. Instead of sitting down and teaching them words, they organically build their vocabulary. This will also lead to…
- A curiosity about the world around them – It is a big world out there, full of dinosaurs and families and stories about raining food! One way to get to explore it is through books. Journeys can be started at the library and continued at museums, stores, and even in the kitchen.
- Improving social skills – Being quiet while a parent or teacher is reading is a polite way to enjoy a book. Waiting until someone else is done talking to speak is an important skill to develop. And the only way to enjoy a book read by an adult is to listen intently. While children become engrossed by tales of cats in hats, they are also learning valuable social skills.
- Better behavior – Children do not always know how to ask for what they want. If they feel they are being neglected, or are frustrated, they may act out to get the attention they crave. By giving that attention without asking, it will keep them better behaved at home and in the classroom.
Sitting down with a child to read a book shows you love them in a variety of ways. You are spending quality time with them (which they love!) while teaching them skills that are going to help them in school. It provides benefits they may not appreciate when they are young, but they will as they grow older. Along with the card and some sweets, plan on giving them a book and spending some time with them. It is a Valentine’s Day gift they will treasure forever.
There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that claims “the strongest force in the universe is compound interest.”
No one knows when, or even if, he said it. But he would not have been wrong. There are many, many charts and articles on the internet that extol the virtues of saving early. The benefits of getting an early jump on saving is not new wisdom; even Aesop told a fable about the ants who collected food at the right time and the grasshopper that played. Investing early is a way to ensure better results in the long run.
The same goes for a child’s education. There may be just as many articles out there explaining that it is never too early to start teaching.
The first five years of a child’s life lays out the foundation for how they will learn. Vocabulary builds. Emotional understanding develops, and opinions toward many activities become established.
Reading with children, and encouraging them to read on their own, is critical at this stage in development. It shows them early on that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a burden only done when forced by a teacher.
Other rewards for starting your child reading early:
- Teaching lessons early – One of the classics in children’s picture books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is an amazing picture book about a caterpillar that eats its way through the book and turns into a butterfly. Beyond being visually stunning, the book teaches children a little about insects and their life cycle. This passive learning can encourage them to want to find out more about different subjects, like science and history.
- Building a vocabulary – Children do not pull words out of thin air that they want to learn. They discover new words through interactions with adults. When adults use certain words frequently, children do as well. It is not difficult to start building that vocabulary early by reading them books and answering what all the words mean. Reading those books provides a word boost to any student when they head to kindergarten on the first day.
- Improved concentration – Attention spans are important. The ability to focus on a task for long periods of time improves the student’s performance on the work. Reading for pleasure can build that attention span as the child gets drawn further and further into a story, especially if that book is read by a parent or teacher in a comfortable place. They will get lost in the world that the book creates for them.
- Developing emotional and social understanding – The heroes of stories go through trials. Those trails can be anything from turning everything you touch to chocolate to the challenges of real-life people. Those struggles can cause new emotions to emerge or allow children to learn to deal with ones they have already found. The more emotionally and socially aware students are when they get to school age, the smoother the transition to school life will be.
We can be skeptical about what Einstein said, but Warren Buffet had similar thoughts about reading: “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”
Encouraging children to begin reading at an early age is investing in their future, as well as giving them something enjoyable to do in the present. The rewards for investing in education at an early age may not be immediately seen, but the compound effect of those extra reading years with shine through their entire life.
It’s no secret teachers work hard during the school year, but they enjoy their time off as much as the students do.
However, even in their off time, teachers spend time getting ready for the next year, brushing up on new skills and techniques, and staying abreast of any changes made in national policy. Researchers are discovering another way for teachers to prepare for the next school year; read more children’s books.
A 2011 study authored by Burgess, Sargent, Smith, Hill, and Morrison, discovered that teachers that read children’s books had a significant advantage. They engaged in industry-recognized best practices far more often than their peers. They have a better understanding of what is popular in children’s literature. This insight provides the ability to cater their lessons to address what students might be reading outside of the classroom.
Beyond the technical help educators can provide, their understanding of children’s literature allows them to pair the right student with the right book. That can be an important spark in getting a student to read for pleasure. We wrote recently about how giving the student a choice in what book to read is important for building new readers. Guiding them to the books they are likely to enjoy helps them find stories they may not have discovered on their own. Sharing the same information with their parents brings them into the process as well.
And the best reason of all? Some of the children’s literature out there is just amazing. Brain Pickings featured seven beautiful children’s books released in 2017 recently. They are not only visually stunning, the stories they tell rival any book for adults on the shelf. Many well-known authors of adult books have also written a book or two for younger readers. They bring the same attention to craft and detail to the work.
When teachers love to read, it shows, no matter the book’s target age group. This enthusiasm for reading can be infectious, and spreading that excitement is the best way to get a student to read. Giving a student a book about a subject they love is one thing; handing it to them with some hints about what lies within the story they are about to consume takes it to another level.
The late Maurice Sendak once said “I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody says, that’s for children.” There are beautiful stories for adults to discover in children’s books. When teachers begin to find those wondrous places, they can share them with their students. They can start their journey of finding more literature that they can share with the class. Showing their passion for reading to the classroom will help it spread like wildfire. It is a lesson that has to be experienced by the class, not taught.