Let’s Talk About Literacy

Recently I joined the Literacy Committee of Southwest Human Development here in Phoenix. SWHD deals with children from birth to 5 years old and strives to ensure that they have access to books. I joined because I’ve always been interested in children’s charities and being a writer, getting books into the hands of children just clicked with me. What I didn’t realize was exactly how much I didn’t know about literacy.

Four Essential Components of Literacy

For starters, when I think of literacy I automatically think about the ability to read words. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, literacy is the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.

To be truly literate there are four skills that must be achieved: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Unfortunately, on a national level nearly 40% of incoming kindergarteners begin school without the basic language skills needed to learn to read.

You may have heard the saying, “children are learning to read up through 3rd grade and after 3rd grade they are reading to learn.” It’s so important that children know how to read by the 3rd grade that if they can’t, they are held back.

Literacy is Built in the Early Years

Actually the critical window of opportunity for children to build these early literacy connections happens in the first 5 years of life; long before they are ready to enter school.

Infants and toddlers learn language by being spoken to, by being read to, by being sung to, and even by learning nursery rhymes. All that repetition and rhyming are excellent building blocks of language development. Many families just don’t know the importance of speaking to their child before the child can talk, reading to them before they can read, singing songs, telling stories and in general engaging with their child on a daily basis. They don’t realize how doing these things will have a positive impart on their child’s brain development and future success.

But even for those parents who do understand, it isn’t always easy. Particularly if the parents are in a low income bracket or have limited literacy skills themselves. They simply don’t have the time or the tools available. For example, statistics have shown that 61% of low income households have no books in their homes! Another statistic: children from higher income homes have access on average to 13 books per child, whereas in a low income area the average is more like 1 book for every 300 children! That just blows me away!

Donate Your Time and Your Books

Now that I’ve become aware, I’m even more dedicated to the work I am doing with this committee and SWHD. They have specific programs like Raising a Reader – an 8 week series that teaches parents and caregivers how to engage with their children through talking, singing, reading, telling stories even if they can’t read themselves. Each week they take home books to read and practice what they’ve learned and at the end of the program they are given a bag of books to keep.

That’s a great program and one that I will be donating time to. What similar programs exist in your community? How can you get involved? Maybe it’s giving those old picture books that your kids have outgrown to a local foster home. Maybe it’s participating in story time at you local library. Whatever it might be I encourage you to get involved and help our country’s children become literate, successful adults.

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