By Toni Massari McPherson
Special to the Turnagain Times
Long story short. At the end of third grade, my son couldn’t read. I panicked, knowing how much his future depended on that skill. Thankfully, his teacher had the answer. He is dyslexic. With specially designed training, he could learn to read and, hopefully, catch up with his classmates, she told me.
So every day that summer, he and I spent time working with a phonetic reading program. He hated it. He thought he was stupid, because he couldn’t read while his classmates could. I persisted. The hard work paid off. He became a passionate reader.
I tell this story not to brag about my skills as a mother, but to point out how we, as parents, can affect our children’s futures very directly. Recent scientific studies showing how learning experiences in the first few years of life have a direct bearing on brain development underline the importance of starting early to build a strong foundation for future learning.
Anchorage Public Library, with support from the Alaska State Library and the Institute of Museums and Library Services, launched the Ready to Read Resource Center in 2008. The program, housed at Loussac Public Library, targets babies to 3-year-olds. But don’t worry; this program is not about teaching your toddler to read. It’s about getting them ready to learn how to read. And this is especially relevant here in Alaska, where nearly half of all kids entering kindergarten aren’t ready.
There are six pre-reading skills shown to be important building blocks for early literacy, many of which you are probably already doing with your child. They include: vocabulary – knowing the names of things; print motivation – being interested in and enjoying books; letter knowledge – knowing letters are different from each other, knowing their names and sounds and recognizing letters are everywhere; print awareness – noticing print, knowing how to handle a book and knowing how to follow the words on a page; phonological awareness – being able to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words, and narrative skills – being able to describe things and events and tell stories.
Ready to Read Resource Center project manager Terri Weckerle has worked diligently to make the program a success. Three collections of print materials were developed: Ready to Read tubs with an assortment of board and picture books; themed lapsit bags with a book, puppet and CD designed for group story time; Read to Me at Home tote bags with a variety of board books that are lent to parents.
Terri’s hard work has paid off. Over the past four years, the RRRC materials have circulated to libraries, day care centers and childhood professionals in more than 100 communities across the state. During this year’s Iditarod, Blynne Froke, the Teacher on the Iditarod Trail, highlighted the Ready to Read Center during each of the checkpoints where she stopped during the race. Recently, the RRRC was featured on the Institute of Museums and Library Services website:
And now, thanks to a $16,000 grant from Wells Fargo, APL is expanding the RRRC’s role as a leader of promoting early literacy in the state. The grant, one of 10 distributed locally by Wells Fargo as part of its 160th anniversary celebration, will go to creating an on-site early literacy lab at Loussac.
“We are going to build a colorful, inviting interactive space for children 3 and under,” said Youth Services Director Sherri Douglas. “Each of the activities will be tied to early literacy skills development. The displays and materials and activities will be changed out regularly.
“We want to create a destination for parents with kids 3 and under. They can come, play with their kids in the lab and meet other families,” she said. “It is also a pilot space to try out different activities and displays to see which are most engaging for youngsters. Not only will that information be useful to other libraries in the state, but to any place where parents with young children have to wait.”
Isn’t it great that our library is providing all this free support to help you give your children or grandchildren a head start in learning to read? Whoever said the library is a place for lifelong learning definitely hit the nail on the head.
For more information about early literacy training or the Ready to Read Center go to http://readytoreadak.org/index.html. All of Terri’s contact information is there, so if you want her to come speak to your group, she’d be glad to schedule a talk. I’ll keep you updated about the progress of the early learning lab.
Toni Massari McPherson is the APL community relations coordinator. For information about events at Anchorage Public Library locations, go to www.anchoragelibrary.org or http://www.facebook.com/anchoragelibrary.