Giving Kids a Jumpstart with Preschool Reading

iVoice Celena Gill, a former teacher, puts the spotlight on a unique program designed to help every child learn to read.

­­­As a mom of four boys who are either already in the public school system or will be entering it eventually, I am keenly aware of the tools needed for their educational success. As a former public school teacher, I have witnessed firsthand how the educational process can be very challenging for students and their parents if they do not receive fundamental literacy skills during the preschool years. It was heartbreaking to watch these children struggle with what should be the most basic of learning tasks. Their parents probably were not aware that one in three children in the U.S. begins Kindergarten behind and that most of them will never catch up. It is essential that parents spend quality time reading to their children and providing a way for their children to learn basic reading skills, i.e. phonics, alphabet recognition, sight word recognition.

Even though I was a teacher, I most certainly knew that I was not suited for preschool students. I would always watch the pre-K and Kindergarten teachers in amazement and awe as they corralled their bunches of runny noses, butterfly chasers, and unstoppable tumblers into the classroom, captivated their attention and implemented creative lesson plans that engaged their students. I, knowing my teaching weaknesses, purchased Hooked on Phonics and taught my oldest son to read.  I even purchased the rebooted system four years later (they replaced the antiquated cassette tapes with interactive DVDs) to teach my younger children when they each turned three years old. I have no problem admitting that I used Hooked on Phonics. It actually worked for my kids.

When you have children, you have an undeniable responsibility to love, nurture, sustain, and educate them. Knowing this, there is no excuse for parents to not equip their children. You may not be able to afford a private preschool education, you may not be eligible for state assistance or free childcare, or you may be a stay at home mom.  Whatever the case, there are a multitude of resources that exist for you and your child to support preschool literacy.

One of those resources is Jumpstart’s Read for the Record. In October of last year, millions of people across the globe participated in reading events and “pajama parties” to read and stand up for children as part of the sixth annual event. The featured book was Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. I registered myself and my children to read and hoped to help spread the message that reading to children is an easy way to ensure they’re prepared for lifelong success.

For the past five years, Jumpstart, a national education organization, has hosted this global event, bringing together celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Vince Vaughn, Patti LaBelle, and Matt Lauer, representatives on Capitol Hill, elected officials, parents, teachers, children and volunteers to help bridge America’s achievement gap. The simple act of reading with a child on this one day translates into yearlong educational support for preschool children from low income communities, many of whom grow up in homes without a single book. In fact, while there are 13 book titles per one child in middle-income areas, there is just one book title per 300 children in low-income areas. You don’t even need to own the book to participate! Llama Llama Red Pajama is being offered to read free online at www.wegivebooks.org.  

Think of it this way: you can begin now to provide a way for your child to be able to support him or herself OR you can prepare your child to rely on others for the rest of his or her life.  In states like California, for every child who isn't reading on the 4th grade level when tested, the state budgets for an additional jail cell.  It is absolutely critical that we all make the right choices for our children. It boils down to creating a culture of success or a pattern of failure. Which will you choose?

Celena Gill, an iVoice on iVillage, is a mom of four boys. For more, check out her blog Strictly Fab or follow her on Twitter (@strictlyfab).

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