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EDITORIAL: Early childhood literacy crucial to development

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” 

— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

Dr. Seuss, the much-loved writer of children’s books whose simple, rich stories and colorful characters helped shape generations of young readers, would have celebrated his 114th birthday last Friday. The prolific writer died in 1991, but not before leaving behind a legacy of words and ideas still applicable today.

This milestone sheds light on an important issue often lost in the shuffle in the age of iPhones and Xboxes: Childhood literacy.

According to the Urban Childhood Institute, an organization recognized as a leader in child advocacy, early literacy development is “vital to later academic success.” Children with poor reading skills are more likely to repeat a grade, often setting the stage for difficulties later on. Children who struggle with reading proficiency by the third grade are four times more likely to withdraw from school before receiving their diploma, according to the UCI website.

As schools and libraries across the nation celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday last week, our community is doing its part to promote literacy with events such as the upcoming Bingo for Books on Monday from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Powell High School Commons. Our library offers numerous events throughout the year to engage kids and adults alike, such as Toddler Time on Mondays and Thursdays and Story Time every Tuesday and Wednesday, designed to make reading fun for kids and create positive habits they can take with them into school and beyond. The Cody library even offers a screen-free haven every Thursday afternoon in the children’s department from 3-8 p.m. where all screens and devices are turned off and kids are encouraged to participate in other activities relating to reading.

In addition to what schools and libraries are doing, parents need to stay more actively involved in the early literacy development of their children.

Few skills are as fundamentally important as reading; it’s a skill used frequently in all aspects of life. Research shows that academic achievement is influenced first and foremost by childhood literacy. Developing good reading habits early should be the goal of every parent and teacher, and there are many ways to engage kids of all learning levels and abilities. Here are a few tips, recommended by the Department of Education:

• Invite a child to read with you every day.

• Read a child’s favorite book over and over again. 

• It doesn’t always have to be books; you can pause wherever you see printed words and help your kids understand them.

• Make sure to use lots of different words when you are talking with your kids, to help build vocabulary.

• Read from a variety of books, including fairy tales, song books, poems and information books.

Parents should feel comfortable reaching out to their local library for help in finding age-appropriate books to use at home, as well as suggest creative ways to use books with their kids.

Reading doesn’t have to be a chore, and the more we as adults can do to promote its benefits, the better off our kids will be. As was usually the case for Dr. Seuss, the best advice is often the simplest: Read to your kids. Promote literacy by supporting local organizations such as the library and after-school programs designed to help kids with their reading skills. Give them a foundation on which to build upon.

Oh, the places they’ll go!

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