Only 60 percent? Surely, not!

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I recently reviewed the latest Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (2014) and was struck by the many interesting statistics shared through this well-designed survey about book reading by children and families.

For example, 60 percent of the more than 2500 parents surveyed said they received the advice from someone that reading books to children from birth onward is powerful for language and literacy development. That is a good thing for the children whose parents received the advice, especially those parents who acted on it. But what about the children who belong to the parents who didn’t take that advice or the 40 percent who didn’t get the message in the first place? That’s over 2 million children born each year whose families don’t understand the amazing power of reading aloud to small ones.

While this piqued my interest, the finer details of that finding are what really caught my attention, specifically that fewer than half of the families from the lowest-income households reported being given the advice about the power of reading with children. That’s appalling when you consider that children living in or near the poverty line constitute nearly half the children in the U.S. Meanwhile, 74 percent of families from the highest income households were evidently encouraged to read with their babies. Now, neither of those statistics is particularly complementary to educators, midwives, librarians, child care providers, pediatricians and other people who touch the lives of littles—all of whom should know and most of whom are well-positioned to add this little bit of sunshine to children’s lives.

Much is known about the myriad ravages of poverty on families. The impacts of economic deprivation on five year olds include for them lifelong food and personal insecurities. Many living in Book Deserts, locations where fewer than 100 books are likely to be found in homes, are also growing up with attendant language and experiential differences. Never encountering the world beyond an impoverished home certainly handicap them in learning to read and can leave them ill-equipped for the challenges of schooling and life beyond the classroom.

There is a relatively simple solution, however!

School success is one of the surest paths out of the poverty into which nearly half of our children are born. And nothing can ameliorate language differences of children as cheaply and as easily as reading with them from accessible picture books. Children’s school preparedness could almost be guaranteed if the categories of folks mentioned above did nothing else for families but deliver the rock solid rationales, friendly encouragements, and a few minutes of modeling of reading to and talking with their youngsters about what’s in those books.

Father and son reading book

Now certainly there are abundant explanations for why reading aloud might not occur in families living in economically and socially dire straits: no books at home, no time for reading, no money for books, and no convenient libraries or bookstores.  A natural first step is issuing to parents a free library card for each of their newborns. Having addressed the central issues of mother and child health, volunteers from local schools, which are in fact those most likely to benefit from children entering Kindergarten fully prepared, might arrange to share a simple handout or infographic focused upon the whys and hows of reading aloud and the huge power of talking with children about books. As a bonus, volunteers could give a brief demonstration (and the handout might contain URLs for videos of that) of what read alouds might look like for an infant, a toddler, a preschooler and for children nearing Kindergarten age.

Surely we could do just these two rather simple things to obtain closer to 100 percent of children and their families in this country benefiting from reading books together.

Surely.

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8 Responses to “Only 60 percent? Surely, not!”

  1. Cathy Eads September 23, 2016 at 11:21 am #

    Books for Babies programs at local hospitals are another simple way to help parents get started reading with their children from birth forward. EDC Publishing is one company which partners with local community sponsors to provide new board books to moms and infants upon discharge from the hospital. Mark, you’ve inspired me to work on arranging for volunteers to share a book mark infographic with read aloud tips and facts, plus a temporary library card which could be converted to a permanent one upon the first visit to the library. Off to arrange conversations with the people who can make those ideas a reality in our program!

    • Mark Condon September 23, 2016 at 11:24 am #

      Wow! What a terrific comment from a real DO-er, not just a TALK-er like me. Thanks for sharing that, Cathy!!!

  2. Connie McKinley-Galdos September 27, 2016 at 6:44 am #

    I attended a session at a conference awhile back that started Books in Barbershops. The session leaders worked with area barbers and hair stylists to train them in dialogic (conversational) reading strategies, then provided them with a bookshelf and books for their customers. Love that idea! Hospitals and OB/GYN offices are also great ideas. Love you my friend Mark Condon! You inspire me.

    • Mark Condon September 27, 2016 at 8:07 am #

      You are too kind, Connie. And, isn’t that Books in Barbershops idea great, though!? It demonstrates that with a focused thought, each of us can do something. Together we can generate a comprehensive culture of reading to support our children’s literacy development.

  3. Lora Coonce, Ed.D., Ed.S (Reading) September 27, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Hi Mark, After 25 years as a bilingual teacher in Texas schools, I returned to Cincinnati where I work as a Research Fellow/ Literacy Interventionist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I currently conduct research on a Title 1 campus within the Cincinnati Public School District and work with pediatricians who participate in the Reach Out and Read program. After spending hours reviewing studies and statistics on children’s reading differences, difficulties, disorders, and disabilities, I have learned first hand that theory and application often do not connect. Behavior management is the primary focus of elementary school classrooms. I have seen a 9-year old child carried out of a classroom after threatening a teacher, and have heard children yelling obscenities at teachers across the hall. As a pull-out reading interventionist, I work with some rough kids who are actually very nice and eager to learn when in a small groups. In bilingual Title 1 schools in Texas, only a handful of Hispanic parents could read (in either Spanish or English), and at my current school that is 85% African American, many of the parents with whom I communicate are illiterate. While we have classes on Dialogic Reading here at the hospital, they are not well-attended. To make up for my pessimism, I will say that there is nothing more valuable than an experienced, well-trained teacher; classroom management improves, expectations are high, goals are set, and outcomes are positive. With innumerable curricula and programs to choose from, knowledge and experience in a learner-centered classroom are all that really matter.

    • Mark Condon September 27, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      I wouldn’t try to argue with any of that, Lora. And, no matter how well-trained teachers are, there are still folks who are NOT so well-trained nor particularly experienced yet are willing to arrange the school schedule, the student assignments to classes, and the demands on teachers that will almost surely stack the deck against success with any regularity. That’s why I’m so eager for the rest of us to help send kids to school who are more than half-way to avid reading before they enter the production line. Sounds like you have engineered a solid situation for kids where you can make a positive learner -centered difference for youngsters who might otherwise be headed out the door. Thanks for your commitment.

  4. Shari Daniels October 1, 2016 at 11:23 am #

    I have a dear friend who started Project Armchair. You have to see what this amazing soul is doing for children in need.
    http://projectarmchair.blogspot.com/

    • Mark Condon October 3, 2016 at 10:33 am #

      Thanks for the heads up, Shari. Talk about walking the walk!!! Vonda Dahl personifies that. I enjoyed reading her blog stories. My blogs tend to focus on a topic of interest to parents and teachers. Ms. Dahl puts the attention on the children that we all treasure.