Everyone can promote youth literacy

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Since we first set reed to clay, humans have been defined by their ability to read and write. We need to be able to read for school, for work, for safety, for driving and, yes, even for fun. And we need to be able to write to pass school, to apply for jobs, to apply for a driver’s license and to have our voices be heard through petitions and voting.

In the age of information, as the present has sometimes been dubbed, there is so little that a person can do in this world without the ability to read or contribute to that information. And, yet, the reality is that literacy is a very real and present problem in our nation.

According to a study conducted in 2003 by the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 93 million U.S. adults have basic or below basic literacy skills.

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That’s a shocking number considering how integral literacy is to our society.

The easiest way to lower this number is to improve literacy when it’s easiest to learn: When the students are children, young children specifically.

That’s a huge goal of those in Suffolk involved in the Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration that promotes the early years in a child’s life as ones of learning. These early years are a prime time to give these children a leg up on the literacy skills that will serve them their whole lives.

As local childcare provider Michelle Freeman told the Suffolk News-Herald during a Week of the Young Child celebration, “It’s so important for them to read and be read to.”

While schools, libraries and childcare facilities in Suffolk and across the nation are highlighted for their essential work in promoting early literacy this week, I encourage parents to join the effort.

When my niece was younger, being read to was an important pastime for her and me. She got to learn the joys of reading and I got to introduce her to the worlds that had so fascinated me when I was younger. “Where the Wild Things Are,” “The Rainbow Fish,” “The Giving Tree” and any number of Dr. Seuss titles are just some of books that we bonded over. And her parents and grandparents all sought to read to her as often as possible, as well.

For her, and for many children, being read to as a young child will be key to future successes. It’s very important to recognize the hard work of schools, libraries and childcare facilities in the promotion of literacy, but parents and family members deserve some encouragement, too. They are on the front lines of youth literacy and it is their efforts — or lack of effort — that can make a huge difference in their child’s lives.