By Congressman Michael Turner
This time every year many people take part in the time honored tradition of making a New Year’s resolution such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or getting more exercise. As 2009 gets underway, however, I urge everyone to remember some of the small things we can each do this year to help improve the lives of those around us. Among these often overlooked but crucial tasks is the importance of regularly reading to our children.
As youngsters, many of us grew up in households without the TV’s, computers, and other gadgets that are so prevalent in homes now. Today, however, our kids are much more likely to spend their free time watching television, playing video games or surfing the internet. Not taking the time to regularly engage young children in activities such as reading can lead to serious consequences later on in life.
The ability to read is a fundamental building block for developing other valuable skills throughout life. Yet according to the National Institute for Literacy, nearly 20% of adults in the United States are only able to read at or below a fifth grade level. This worrisome statistic has serious ramifications in the American workplace because almost 75% of jobs now require employees to be able to read at or above a ninth grade level. As the world market place becomes even more competitive, the ability to read proficiently will become increasingly important.
Reading aloud to your child from a young age is one of the easiest and most effective ways of combating this problem. Research demonstrates that children who are read to on a regular basis reap numerous benefits. These young people learn language faster, have better academic performance, are able to more effectively comprehend concepts, and score higher on standardized tests. All of these characteristics translate to greater success later on in life.
One of the easiest ways to get involved in youth literacy is to begin taking advantage of the great network of libraries that exist throughout our community. Libraries offer an array of resources and often have regular programs that are designed to get kids interested in reading. In addition to being a great resource for parents to find and check out books, many libraries offer contests and reading clubs throughout the year that are specifically designed to help kids become engaged in the world of reading.
As adults we must take the responsibility of making sure our young people grow up in an environment rich with learning. Even if you are not a parent, I encourage you to consider becoming involved in a mentoring program at a local school or community center.
As Mayor of Dayton, I supported Project Read, a local organization that provides literacy training and programming for individuals throughout the Miami Valley. This group continues to offer valuable services for those in our region who struggle with reading, as well as volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in helping others learn to read. For more information, contact Project Read at (937) 461-7323.
During my time in Congress I have continued working to promote youth literacy. I have supported several pieces of legislation on this issue, including the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act, which authorized funding for programs promoting childhood literacy and learning. Additionally, one of my favorite activities as a Congressman is having the opportunity to visit local schools to read to youngsters. The enjoyment they show while listening to one of their favorite stories reinforces the importance of this activity.
The Reading is Fundamental organization offers a number of helpful tips to keep in mind while reading with children:
- Learn about the child’s interests and suggest books, magazines, and articles that relate to those topics.
- Continue reading to children even after they can read on their own.
- Discuss the meaning of new words and concepts.
- Have fun. The most important thing you can do is convey the value and enjoyment that comes out of reading.
I encourage parents to consider taking thirty minutes each day to sit down and read a book with their child. I am confident that these efforts will result in children who are better prepared for school and the challenges that will face them later in life.