The Best Gift to Give a Parent

Many years ago,  as a full-time undergraduate psychology student in the last semester before earning my college degree,  I  was an expectant mother of a daughter born one month after commencement. Reading was an integral part of my days, and most nights. When cramming for exams, I would ‘pull all-nighters’  learning theories in clinical and counseling psychology.

I also wanted to know what to expect BEFORE my child was born. I knew that breastfeeding was the most nutritious and  natural feeding source for babies. So, I breastfed.  But, there was something else that was monumentally important. Reading!   I read to her-a lot.

I read to my daughter while breastfeeding; I read to her in the morning, at night, at the pediatrician’s office….and  continued, until one day, ‘we’ were reading together. Before I knew it,  she was 3 years old, and a reader in every sense of the word. How delightful it is, when you hear your child reading to you[even pretending or making up the words along the way] Reading time was a routine, an expectation and so much fun, too. Today, that little girl is an Instructor Pilot!

I was fortunate that I possessed the  resources to support the early learning and reading development of my child. However, not all parents are able to do so. I was a college graduate, and although some parents don’t have high school diplomas,  we can still build their capacity to give their children the gift of early literacy and numeracy for greater school preparedness. It can and will help close the achievement gap, and  support the future achievement of their children at school and life beyond.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, from birth to kindergarten, upper income families have an average of  12-15 books in their home, and read to their children about 15,000 hours from birth to kindergarten or age 5[0-5yrs.]. In contrast,  lower income or poorer families spend an average of 30 hours on reading with their children during that same time period. Amazing, right?

The  gaps  begin here…. in the home!

If educators, policy makers, community members and parents really want to demonstrate that we want to ensure  ALL children’s academic achievement, which also erodes the pipeline to prison, then our direction should be quite clear. Why put off the inevitable? I feel a collective  awareness that eventually and ultimately, we must engage the family at home. Otherwise, remediation remains the norm.

In order to affect measurable, sustainable and positive changes for improved learning outcomes, and more preparedness among children who enter kindergarten, we MUST engage families first. Each one teach one!

“Tell me, and I hear you; Show me and I see, but teach AND provide resources and access, and I understand.”

read book

Telling stories also encourages a love for reading, learning, and feeds a child’s natural curiosity. Stories are the vehicle by which humans process information and makes sense of the world around us and our place within it. Reading to children from birth begins a positive association with books, and then they will read because they want to, not because they have to. Reading should not be a chore but a chance to journey and dream of destinations unknown.

The key to our success lies in the hands of parents and families at home. Engage them, educate them, empower them, encourage them, and ensure that they have access to books. Just one book can make a difference in the life of a child, and if that book becomes a child’s favorite, then one book is all you need to get started.

Encourage parents who have limited access to books to travel to their local library and borrow books to read WITH their children. Help them with the application  for a library card, if without one.

Inform parents that they DO have reading material in their homes other than books.

  • Items found in kitchen cabinets, cupboards, refrigerators….all have words on their labels-read them.
  • Commercials on TV, and there are apps for smartphones that encourage reading and early literacy.

Parents without flashcards can take just plain paper[lined or lineless], and fold many times, cut and separate into small pieces, write a letter of the alphabet on each, and teach letter recognition.

Sight words can be taught, as well, in many ways.

  • Labelling furniture, cups, windows, and make labels for them to familiarize children with the association between things and words that name them.

solo read

The basic idea is that with creativity and the resources at hand, no matter the income, all parents can encourage early reading development.

While traveling to the grocery store, doctors office, words are found on street signs, ads on buses, restaurant names,….. and teach letter recognition and reading – not memorization alone.

Tell parents to tell stories, make up stories. They can read the newspaper, and as long as their voices are animated and it sounds exciting, even the most ‘hum-drum’ story can be exciting to a youngster. They will love it all!

Tell parents to improvise, and give them books, lots of books to read. We can make a big difference in the lives of children and their families, one at a time, too. Old books, magazines…give them to someone who has a child, donate them to organizations, take them to schools, day care centers, after school programs.

We CAN make a difference by recycling old books AND paying it forward. One book can change a life!



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