I Have a Passion for Literacy.
Over my thirty-year career as an educator, researcher, and writer, I have tried to stay on its cutting edge. My books for teachers and parents advocate for important-sometimes unsung-topics:
This year in America about 1.5 million children entered kindergarten who could not write their name. As anyone who pays attention to our nation's educational system can attest, a major problem with our schools is that 43% of children come to school already behind and not ready for success with reading. Teachers witness it every day-these same children, who represent a much talked about performance "achievement gap," have great difficulty catching up with their peers. Many never do. Public schools have sought solutions with bold programs to insure that all children read on grade level by grade three. These program have not been successful.
Many of the efforts have not succeeded because they are too little too late. Instead of waiting to teach formal reading to six and seven year olds who aren't well prepared for success, we should place more emphasis on teaching reading joyfully and informally during a critical period of brain development between birth and age four. Science now shows natural baby-reading brain capacity as early as eight or nine months of age-not for formal instruction, but for joyful bonding interactions with parents focusing on books, word learning and communication. We should be providing much more emphasis on the notion of the parent as the first reading teacher and step up to the plate with preschool education.
Just imagine a nation where every child has been exposed to books and joyful word reading, vocabulary, and concept development beginning soon after birth. Imagine all parents bonding with their children over loving interactions with books and word reading. A new scientific study shows that babies and toddlers who hear sophisticated language in preschool are better readers in fourth grade. Imagine every child entering kindergarten already writing his or her name and already able to talk about a favorite book. Just imagine how much more these children would be able to learn as they progress through the educational system and how much better it would be for everybody. This goal is achievable and it makes good financial sense.
A recent Carnegie report sums it up well:
Results of a 25- year follow-up study, conducted between 1998 and 2001, show the potential of high-quality early intervention programs to level the playing field and lead to measurable improvements in participants' school performance and adult life choices-saving taxpayers' money over time.
Underpinning this notion, James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, reports that investments in early childhood education pay a return of 7 percent or more-better than many investments in Wall Street. In fact, they pay for themselves.
Preschool education reduces taxpayer expenses for things like special and remedial education, school dropouts and crime and leads to higher incomes creating a stronger consumer base. If we as a nation want to continue to be able to compete economically, scientifically, and in the arts and create a better life for our children, there is no better place to start than with baby/toddler reading.