March Into Literacy Month

March Into Literacy Month is about more than just the importance of learning to read and write. The idea behind the month-long celebration has several tenets, and the most important among them harkens back to a theme many of us heard growing up: Reading Is FUNdamental!

Sure, the importance of literacy as a skillset is essential. Students who can’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. The lack of early reading is shown to have profound effects on the mastery of life skills, social skills, and earning potential throughout a person’s life. Clearly, literacy is a fundamental skill one needs to possess. But focusing on the negatives that illiteracy presents excludes the flip side of that coin – the joy that comes with reading, understanding, and being part of a human dialogue.

I’m not talking about Tolstoy, Hemingway, and Faulkner here. I’m talking about board games, comic strips, and music lyrics. Recipes, sports statistics, and social media memes, things that bring every day joy. While that can include Beowulf, it certainly doesn’t have to. Consider how easy it is to use signs, labels, and even your phone because of literacy. Being able to read and write means being able to keep up with current events, communicate effectively, and understand the issues that are shaping our world – which includes the ability to read and write in all media, print or electronic.

Developing early literacy skills make it easier for children to read throughout their schooling. For a student with poor literacy skills, learning across all subjects becomes much more challenging. Students who participated in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program are a good example of this. The Imagination Library program mails books, free of charge, to the homes of all children age 0-5. In the third grade, students’ academic performance was rated by ACT Aspire testing. When compared with those who did not participate in the program, Imagination Library participants were 18% more likely to score Ready or Exceeding in reading and language skills. No surprise there. But they were also 15% more likely to score high in math, a whopping 24% more likely to achieve higher scores in science, and were 28% less likely to be held back in third grade. Reading well crosses boundaries into all other subject areas and lays the foundation for understanding on many levels.

Beyond comprehension and learning, reading can be a wonderful outlet for students, particularly those going through difficult personal situations. Literature allows students to retreat from reality and transport themselves to a fantasy world. Teens can find books that discuss similar issues they are facing. Many find them to be sources of strength and encouragement. This appreciation for reading

begins long before a student enters pre-k. So what can parents do to March toward encouraging their children to become readers?

· Participate in Reading Is Fundamental, Imagination Library, and other programs that put books in the hands of young readers. Many programs, including the aforementioned, are FREE, regardless of income, and include interactive activities that caregivers can share with children.

· Take the time to read to your children and grandchildren. A student who reads just 20 minutes a day will read or hear 1.8 million words per year, and will have logged 851 hours of reading by the time they enter 6th grade.

· Go to the library! You knew I would get there eventually, right? Storytime is huge for kids, but more than just stories, Storytime normalizes going to the library. This can lead to use of the library in later years, including programs for young gamers, art programs, Chess Club, and Summer Reading Challenges that encourage continued reading when schools are closed.

Other tips that help to make reading a daily habit include reading in front of your child, creating a reading space in the home that has good light and few distractions, re-reading favorite books, and finding reading moments in everyday life, outside the pages of a book. You are your child’s first teacher. Take every moment you can to support your child’s reading habits.