I believe in reading every day to young children. For the first 30 plus years of my working and volunteering career I focused on school-age children, mostly teenagers—as a teacher, a superintendent in an institution in the juvenile justice system of Texas in the reform era of the 1970’s, a board member at the local and state levels of Child Welfare, a member of the Texas State Board of Education in the wake of legislated educational reform in the 1980’s, and numerous other boards and committees dealing with neglected, destitute and abused children.
Over time I became increasingly disturbed about how difficult or impossible it is to change the negative attitudes and destructive habits of deeply troubled or failing young people once they arrive in middle school. If a child is behind in kindergarten and fails grades during elementary school, the seductive swirl of embarrassment, peer judgments, and self-loathing often sucks her into the vortex of conflicts and failures in school. Many kids give up and drop out, their dreams withered and life’s options diminished. For some, drugs, addictions, and criminal behavior follow too easily: another potentially productive young citizen lost, another jobless adult in need, another prison inmate. But her parents, frequently lacking necessary resources, never intended anything but good for their little one. They adored her. They wanted her to shine.
Now I have the most wonderful job in the world. I give away books to families with young children.
I cannot deny the complex difficulties of families striving for the best for their children. But all of the research indicates that the single most important preparation for success in school is simple: read aloud every day with a child from infancy through kindergarten. I believe that equipping parents, grandparents, and caregivers with books and an understanding of the significance of reading daily to their young children will help give them the chance they need to make it in school and life—with gold stars by their names.
Give parents Goodnight Moon and as they read it over and over, they begin to realize that they are their child’s first and best teachers. Give a parent Brown Bear, Brown Bear and her four-year-old will chant the next line “What do you see?” on the first day of Pre-K along with his classmates. Give a family Curious George and their youngster will giggle with recognition just like his peers. Give books that have stories, colors, poems, or merely pictures. Imaginations soar. Vocabularies multiply. Curiosity zings. Those odd shapes become letters and the letters words and the books the greatest source of delight. Best of all, the child comes to know that every day he is special and capable and loved. The memories of being snuggled into his mother’s lap or cozied up to his daddy’s side or rocked with his grandmother while sharing a book will last a lifetime.
All children deserve the best chance to make it. I believe that reading to young children brings the joys and benefits that make that “best chance” possible.
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