One Simple Thing: Read a Book Aloud!
A View from My Window: Reflections of the Executive Director
I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. – Mother Teresa
If I’ve learned anything here, it’s that the incidence of child abuse is far too high. And its cost (the latest estimate I read puts it in the trillions) is staggering. But what’s the antidote to this unsettling epidemic?
Providing every child a safe home environment and a healthy framework for their physical, social and emotional development can feel daunting. Which is why it’s worthwhile to set our sights on the little things we can do to make a difference. How might we, as Mother Teresa suggests, cast stones that create many ripples?
Fortunately, there are many simple ways each of us can help build a safer, healthier world for kids. In the coming months, I’ll share ideas from the staff at Children’s Center. Our first suggestion: read a book aloud.
Pediatricians recommend that parents start reading to their children in early infancy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, doing so “enhances social-emotional development while building brain circuits to prepare children to learn language and early literacy skills.”
Among the widely-recognized benefits, reading aloud to children:
- Develops language, speech, and communication skills
- Improves concentration
- Promotes logical thinking
- Increases imagination
- Instills empathy
- Introduces new ideas, experiences, people, and places
Best of all, reading aloud with children is fun—and equally insightful for parents.
“As both a clinician and Mom with two young children,” observes Family Support and Intake Specialist, Bitsy Taylor (LCSW),
“I’m fascinated by how much I learn about children’s internal experiences when we read together. As they explore the thoughts and feelings of different characters in books, I get to hear how they think and feel about what goes on in the world. Many of the best discussions I’ve had with both my own children and clients began by reading a book!”
Unfortunately, nearly a third of American children begin Kindergarten without the skills they need to read—and nearly two-thirds aren’t reading proficiently when they complete third grade (including 80% of those living below the poverty level). Because third-grade reading proficiency is the most common predictor of both high school success and future rates of incarceration, it’s in everyone’s interest for children to become active readers by then.
For many families, “time” is an understandable barrier to parent-child reading. “It’s hard,” admits Medical Clinic Director Dr. Cathy Lang. “Beyond the considerable demands of work,” she continues,
“there are so many other distractions. Television, text messages, e-mail and other pursuits pull parents in different directions. But by putting aside these diversions to read with your children—even for just a few minutes a day—you show them your love. Bedtime reading can be especially gratifying. And the time you invest now will pay significant dividends later.”
While parents are largely responsible for getting the ball rolling, you don’t have to be a parent to read to a child. Most schools have programs that engage volunteers as readers and tutors. Organizations such as “SMART” (getsmartoregon.org) and “Reading Results” (readingresultspdx.org) provide other volunteer reading opportunities. As Reading Results emphasizes, these programs deliver a strong message to children struggling to read: “You are important. Your community cares about you and your future.”
If you’re unable to volunteer, you can still help. Donated books and financial gifts are essential to every reading-centered organization. And a little can go a long way. For example, the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy (www.ferstfoundation.org) mails new books to thousands of children each month—one per month through their fifth birthday, at no charge to eligible families. Focused on children from low-income communities in Georgia, and funded largely by donations, this creative initiative costs just $36 per child annually. And for a few more dollars, “gift subscriptions” are available to families anywhere.
To explore local possibilities, try entering “Helping children read” and your town’s name in any internet search engine. The number and variety of options may surprise you. And if you’re interested in the book that launched a movement, check out Jim Trelease’s 1982 bestseller, The Read Aloud Handbook (www.trelease-on-reading.com).
There are also resources for parents whose reading and language skills are limited. Most public libraries host regular read-aloud programs for toddlers and young children. Music and other educational activities are often included. And they’re free!
The bottom line: by reading aloud to a child, or by making it easier for others to do so, you will be helping to change a life. In the process, you may be helping to change the world.
It’s certainly worth a try.
PS. If you have suggestions, I invite you to share them, either by commenting here, or responding personally to me via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (503-210-2423). I’d love to feature your ideas in a future blog!