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December 23, 2016

Give the Gift That Lasts a Lifetime: Reading. Just Read to Children

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published by the Bradenton Herald. Research shows that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn. This is an ongoing communitywide effort in Manatee and Sarasota counties to help all children, especially those from low-income families, succeed in school by ensuring they read on grade-level by the end of third grade.

Looking for a Christmas present that could last a lifetime, not one of those things that gets tossed into the garbage after breaking? Or that electronic device that mesmerizes today’s youth with dazzling games, mindless messages and image postings, then loses its luster?

There’s a mind-expanding way to take advantage of a child’s fascination, though not with a toy in the traditional sense — or, as actress Betty White so perfectly stated in a biting remark about some things about the Internet, not “a monumental waste of time.”

The written word in a book stands up to the test of time, if only youth would give more than 140 characters a chance at engaging their intellect. The printing press dates back to 1440 when a visionary by the name of Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, adapted the existing technologies of the day into a machine that spread like wildfire throughout Europe.

The Internet spread even faster, but there is no substitute for books. If children cannot understand the written word, they cannot understand the Internet — unless all they do is play games and view videos. Words matter.

Study after study proves that instilling the enjoyment of reading means all the world to a child. And by all the world, we mean giving children the capacity to comprehend all that surrounds them. The youngest children need the most attention, from infancy to third grade. That education research indicates third grade is the critical time for students to advance from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” The development of comprehension skills and mastering more complex material at this age pays off with greater possibilities of lifelong achievement.

Reading to a child at the earliest ages gives that child the gift of language. Children soak up the spoken word well before they can read. Their world will expand as their brains grow with ideas, knowledge and empathy. And as they grow older, perhaps more importantly, awareness of the world in which they live. Awareness of other people, other cultures, other countries. Give young children the enjoyment and power to read — by giving books. Children must be able to read competently by the end of third grade or by age 9. Otherwise, research shows those children fall far behind their classmates and are likely destined to a lifetime of underachieving.

The holiday season — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever you celebrate — is the time to put children first. And Manatee County has been doing that for well over a year by joining the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The United Way of Manatee County is the driving force here, knitting together employers, volunteers and community partners to unite behind the organization’s “Manatee Mind Trust” 2016-2017 initiative.

The regional campaign, which includes Sarasota County and is known as the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, focuses on five elements adopted from the national movement: school readiness and early learning before third grade; school attendance; summer learning; healthy readers and parent/family engagement. All are essential to childhood development and adult success. The district enjoyed a wonderful start to a new student attendance program to combat chronic absenteeism by deploying “graduation enhancement technicians” — GETs, if you will — in Title 1 schools. They work with families to address and solve the problem.

The school district suffers from low academic scores from state tests primarily because of reading deficiencies, especially in Title 1 schools in poor neighborhoods. Children hearing the written word from an adult reading a book helps as study after study shows.

The Manatee County School District and United Way of Manatee County welcome volunteers. This year United Way is celebrating the fifth year of its ReadingPals Initiative, whereby volunteers read to pre-kindergarten students — to help build vocabulary exposure and expansion, comprehension of the written word and, most importantly, to foster a love of books.

Volunteering to read to a child for as little as an hour a week would be a priceless present, an inexpensive legacy for a youngster who knows not the gift of a lifetime. Check out

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