|Why are we focusing on Early Literacy?|
|It matters for brain and child development |
The period of early childhood development is unique - physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. The human brain achieves approximately 85% of its adult size by age 2 ½ years, and 90% of total growth by age 3. This period of growth corresponds to a young child’s attainment of important developmental milestones, including emotional regulation and attachment, language development, and motor skills.
Early literacy theory and research emphasizes a natural unfolding of skills through the enjoyment of books, the importance of positive interactions between young children and adults, and the critical role of literacy-rich experiences. By focusing on the importance of the first years of life, we give new meaning to the interactions young children have with books and stories. Looking at early literacy development as a dynamic developmental process, we can see the connection (and meaning) between an infant mouthing a book, the book handling behavior of a two-year-old, and the page turning of a five-year-old. We can see that the first three years of exploring and playing with books, singing nursery rhymes, listening to stories, recognizing words, and scribbling are truly the building blocks for language and literacy development.
It matters for children and families
Children whose parents read to them become better readers and perform better in school. Other family activities, such as telling stories and singing songs, also encourage children’s acquisition of literacy skills. Children’s early experiences with books are among the most significant indicators for their success in learning to read in school, and supportive efforts that begin very early in life are the most successful. Results from the evaluation of Every Child Ready to Read - the joint project of the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children - suggest that before attending parent training sessions, many parents of 0-23 month olds were the least likely to share books and use the library, but after attending the sessions, they dramatically increased their frequency of use.
It matters for Oregon
Without public help, tuition in a child care center in Oregon averages $5,580 annually for a child in pre-kindergarten. This is more than the average annual tuition at a state university. In Oregon, state and federal Head Start programs together served approximately 11,800 children in 2002. More than 6,200 children from low-income families were left unserved by the state Head Start program. This means that only 18 percent of all three and four year olds were served by public programs. A survey of Oregon kindergarten teachers showed that kindergarten children who participated in pre-kindergarten were more prepared for school than those who did not attend pre-kindergarten.
In Oregon, the most recent Children First for Oregon Report Card assigns a C+ to the category of early care and education, despite this ongoing research that confirms the importance of early exposure to reading, early literacy activities, and print rich environments. Yet Oregon is home to several proven programs that help families and child care providers meet the challenges of the early years, such as Benton County’s Early Outreach, Clackamas County’s First Teacher, Deschutes County’s Ready Set Go, Jackson County’s Champion for Literacy, Marion County’s Salem-Keizer Early Literacy Project, Lane County’s Success By Six, Coos County’s CARE Connections, and Douglas County’s First By Five. However, although many of these programs reflect collaborations among child care centers, child care providers, parents, teachers, community service organizations, and universities, few list public librarians among their partners.
And public libraries can make a difference!
What will it take to provide better early education and care for Oregon’s children between the ages of 0-3? It will take the development of an action plan that proposes strategies to coordinate and implement a statewide early literacy effort by Oregon’s public libraries.
- Oregon’s public libraries have the ability to greatly impact the early reading experiences of preschool children by reaching thousands of parents, caregivers, and children.
- Oregon’s public libraries can offer opportunities for families and child care providers to learn best practices in reading techniques for infants and toddlers.
- Oregon’s public libraries can help increase access to exemplary “ready to learn” programs.
- Oregon’s public libraries have the research, strategies, organizational skills, and creativity that are highly valued by community partners.
- Oregon’s public libraries can provide continuing education for caregivers who need licensing or re-licensing.
- Oregon’s public libraries can offer programs to parents that reaffirm messages delivered by caregivers, develop booklists, plan opportunities to learn about and visit the library, explicitly model early literacy behaviors, and provide easy strategies for parents to use at home.
- Oregon’s public libraries big and small have a key role to play in their communities, disseminating Early Literacy information to parents, child care providers, early childhood educators, children’s advocates, and political decision makers.
Do want to help convince others of the importance of Early Literacy? Check out the handouts from the regional meetings for important talking points about young children and literacy skills.