Encouraging parents to read to their infants
By DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org June 1, 2012 9:30PM
Kelli Mason, literacy coach for School District 218 and a volunteer for Cradle to the Classroom, speaks to expecting parents about the importance of reading to babies Thursday, May 24, 2012 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2012 8:42AM
When it comes to giving children every academic advantage, which of the following is most important:
a) A parent’s income.
b) A parent’s education.
c) A parent’s willingness to create a language friendly environment, beginning in infancy.
Of course, the answer is C. Research shows that parents who read to their children and talk with them regularly, making the most of language and vocabulary, pave the way for academic success.
That process starts early. Very early.
“Read to your baby now,” suggested Kelli Mason, addressing a room full of expectant parents during a prenatal program at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. “Even before they’re born, they can hear you. Talk to them, read them stories.”
Mason, literacy coach for Community High School District 218, is among a team of volunteers from local libraries, schools and hospitals who participate in Cradle to the Classroom — a literacy partnership aimed at getting parents to boost brain function in their infants as well as getting them engaged in the academic process early, well before grade school begins.
Since it was created in January 2011 by District 218 spokesman Bob McParland, Cradle to the Classroom volunteers have met with 1,800 parents.
“We see so many kids in District 218 who arrive below grade level in math and English,” he said. “Getting parents to realize the power they possess to set a positive course for their children gives them incentive and the understanding of their position of influence.”
Partner organizations include Women, Infants, Children (WIC), a government support agency for low-income families; Courage, a program developed by St. Germaine Parish in Oak Lawn that supports young single moms; Christ Medical Center; Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park; and MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island.
“Ninety-six percent of a child’s vocabulary and reading ability comes from his parents,” Mason told the group of about 20 people at a recent Thursday night meeting. “The brain is a sponge and 0 to 3 are critical years.”
Brains process an incredible amount of information during those early years, she said. The age presents a wonderful opportunity for parents to stimulate their baby’s intellectual growth.
“There’s this misconception that if a child can’t sit still and look at a book, he isn’t ready to read,” Mason said. “But it’s not about story development. It’s more about making connections and firing neurons and familiarizing your baby with how words sound.”
Cindy Lugo and Miguel Morales, of Hickory Hills, have been reading for months to their unborn son, Sebastian, due June 1.
“He’s already got a book collection,” Lugo said. “I agree 100 percent that you should read to infants.”
When a parent reads to a baby, Mason said, they introduce vocabulary as well as opportunities to playfully expand on an idea presented in the story.
Touching books, being snuggled while being read to, giggling at rhyming words or comical situations — all that encourages a love for literacy, she said.
“Let them love that book, mess with it, sleep with it,” she said.
Mason ended her brief presentation by handing out the baby book “Smile” to each of the parents in attendance. The books were bought with a $5,000 grant from the Blue Island Community Health Care Foundation.
Effective readers become effective communicators and processors of information, she said. They become good problem solvers.
“They don’t have to know how to read before they start school,” she said. “They should know, however, that they love reading and that they love books.”
Mason said by the time she sees a child at the high school level, reading ability is already determined.
“It’s very hard to make up the difference at age 14 or 15,” she said.
“Kids will tell me they have no books at home, but there’s a TV in every room,” she said. “You can really tell the difference between children raised in reading friendly environments and those not.”
A struggling reader likely also will struggle with social studies, science, even math, she said.
“You have the power to get your child off to the best start ever,” she said.