My mother never had enough lap space for all of us as she read the books we chose each day. No matter. We could hear the stories just fine, stories from the armload of books she brought home from the library every week. She kept reading to whichever kids needed stories and was still reading when her grandchildren came along.
Mother did exactly what was needed to kick start the educations of generations of family kids. She never quoted statistics or worked to strengthen language skills. She simply passed on her love of books by reading to whichever child happened to be occupying her lap at the moment.
Instead of percentages and predictions about the importance of reading to preschool youngsters, I will simply say: with every story, a child moves another step closer to stronger communication skills, improved concentration, success in school, and a solid level of literacy. It really is as simple as that.
Children enter kindergarten classrooms after 1825 days at home, 1825 days with daily, potential 30-minute slots for stories and books. Of course, the possibility of every kid hearing 1825 books before kindergarten does not take into account that children often go through periods when they want to hear the same book for weeks on end.
Such was the case with my sister whose daughter went through a lengthy Color Kittens phase. The child woke up late one night and insisted on hearing her favorite story. Fortunately, my sister had involuntarily committed Color Kittens to memory and was able to recite it without even turning on the light!
Whether it is a different book each time or the same story for days and days, the long-range implications are the same. Preschoolers are hearing language and sentence structure. They are building vocabularies.
They are also making important connections. At the age of four, my niece discovered the letters in one alphabet book were the same as the letters in another alphabet book. My sister reports her daughter kept yelling, “They’re the same thing, they’re the same thing!”
On a parent’s lap listening to a book, a child will probably converse with the reader because pointing to pictures and asking questions – parent or child – is part of story reading. That informal Q & A process helps children develop skills in logic, sequence, cause and effect – in other words, abstract thinking.
Every regular-reading parent or grandparent can also identify with my sister’s experience of turning two pages at once accidentally – or on purpose. Her children were always more than quick to point out that she had skipped a page!
Most of us have also observed children reading aloud to themselves by telling their own stories from the pictures. It may seem that my tiny grandniece and grandnephew are just jabbering at some book, but they, too, are “reading.” My favorite recent Facebook pictures: Becky Jackson’s preschool grandson sharing a book with his younger brother and Kendra Plischke-VanZile’s toddler niece “reading” to her baby sister.
Debbie Bair, now retired from her position as reading specialist at Graham, maintains that reading to children is the single most important activity for building future reading skills – and it need not cost a single cent.
It shocks me that every year some children arrive at kindergarten not knowing how to hold a book or turn pages, much less understanding the concept of reading from left to right. How can that happen here in Champaign County, where we are blessed with wonderful libraries that offer all kinds of books and activities for kids at no charge?
Our teachers and schools are working hard to ensure that all students meet Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee. I firmly believe the current aggressive testing program attached to this state mandate would be unnecessary if adults simply took advantage of their preschool children’s natural learning processes by reading a story every day.
Jennifer Lile Harvey, 1997 Graham graduate, is putting her similar belief into action by introducing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to the Graham district. She is quite the dynamo, working with many community partners including United Way, Graham Local Schools, and the Madison Champaign ESC to bring the tenets of Read.Imagine.Soar! to children aged six months to five years.
Jennifer is coordinating the many facets of this program whose simple concept is to provide a book monthly to each preschool child. The initial book for all children, Dolly Parton’s favorite, The Little Engine That Could, will arrive for registered Graham preschoolers in November. A quick check of the national website shows a well-developed program of books chosen specifically for age-level and sent directly to each child.
I agree with Jennifer that even if these books are never read aloud, their mere presence will make important inroads for their youthful owners. By the way, Jennifer is actively searching for Graham preschoolers to register.
Let’s temporarily forget reading tests and language skills. Let’s just picture a special time of day: a half hour of snuggly cuddling while sharing the magic of a story. By allowing our little ones to learn about reading naturally, we ease the complicated process of teaching reading later – and make special memories in the process.
Round up a son, a daughter, a grandchild, a couple of kids in a local preschool class. Grab a book or two. Prepare your lap, real or figurative. And just read…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.