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January 22, 2015

Building Bridges from the Word Gap to Childhood Reading Success

With the exciting visit of Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, to Sarasota and Manatee counties this week, we will all learn more about his passion for this work and the research that supports why reading at a third-grade level by the end of third grade is such an important milestone in a child’s life — especially for children from low-income families.

Ralph’s message is as important to family members as it is to educators and other community leaders. From parents to other caretakers — their roles in setting up children for success is undeniable.

Two of several of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s areas of emphasis are parent engagement and early childhood education/school readiness. One of the ways to make progress from birth is to educate parents and caretakers about closing the word gap. Research shows that children born into low-income families hear about 30 million fewer words than more affluent peers. This is one of the compounding factors of the overall achievement gap.

There are many ways to tackle this issue and educate parents about the word gap. A Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network community in Providence is doing just that and others are following suit.

I am honored to serve as one of the consultants to The Patterson Foundation on the local campaign, which is gaining traction in Sarasota and Manatee counties. While I have professional experience in teaching children to read, the single most important thing to know about me is that I am grandmother to Derrick James, who was born on March 21, 2014.

The second thing to know is that I am sure Derrick says to himself, “Doesn’t she ever stop talking?” No, I don’t stop talking.

When we are changing outfits, I describe every motion to him: “Now I’m taking your left arm out of the left sleeve of your red and blue striped shirt.” When we are playing: “Now I am stacking the purple cup on top of the green cup. Do you see the elephant on the purple cup? Do you see the monkey on the green cup?” And, of course, when we are reading: “Why do you think Spot likes to play ball with his friends?” And I am constantly counting with him: “One orange circle, two aqua squares, three pink triangles.”

Derrick has a large collection of Beanie Buddies that give us lots to talk about.

“This one is a San Diego Charger. San Diego is a beautiful city in California. His Chargers uniform is blue and white with a gold lightning bolt.”

This is how I talked to my children when they were babies. Later, I became a K-12 reading specialist and learned that what I did instinctively as a parent was what the experts said was the right thing to do.

As Derrick gets older, he’ll talk more and I’ll listen more. He will stack the cups himself and tell me which animal is on which color cup. He will count the shapes for me and tell me what colors they are as he puts them in the shape-sorter. We’ll go to a map to see exactly where San Diego is and we’ll try to find out if there’s a lot of lightning there. He’ll be able to read the Spot books to me and take off his own blue and red striped shirt. And, when it’s bedtime, we’ll read Goodnight Moon to each other.

That’s the kind of future we’re working toward for every young child in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Denise Roberts is an initiative consultant for The Patterson Foundation working on the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading. She frequently tweets about children and reading @DeniseSarasota. Follow #GLReading on Twitter and Facebook for the latest from the national campaign. 

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