Reading Matters

Last week I mentioned that my favorite community service is reading to youngsters. Longtime Warner Robins Noon Optimist member Charles Chapman started a reading program at then Pearl Stephens Elementary School more than a decade ago, which is when I got hooked on reading to kids not my own. Optimist Bill Goodwin took over the program a few years ago and recently C.B. Watson Primary School became the school that my club reads to. We read to 1st and 2nd grade students and the kids love it.

Why 1st and 2nd graders? “Learn to read so you can read to learn!” This maxim has been used in education for many years, and today that viewpoint is under attack in education circles as it doesn’t account for context, life experiences and other factors in a student’s life. I don’t for a minute think that my reading teaches a child “how” to read. We have wonderful teachers that do that everyday. Our community has wonderful parents who read to their kids. But reading is the primary focus in a child’s education in the early years.

So what does my reading do? First, I love doing it and I think it shows. I want the kids to know that I love seeing them, interacting with them and that I love to spend time with them. Second, I tell them every time that if they can read they can be anything they want to be. I point out that quarterbacks and point guards need to read playbooks, that airline pilots need to read manuals, that policeman need to read the law and so on. Third, I pick fun books. Dr, Seuss is always fun. Happily illustrated books with a good message are fun to read. Books that explore curiosity make me laugh and get the students involved. Finally, engaging the kids in both my life story and in the book I am reading helps them see the fun that reading can be.

Now how important is reading? Studies show as each year passes it becomes harder to read if you don’t have the foundation in place. Studies show that a child who can’t read by third grade has a high likelihood of not graduating high school, which decreases their potential income and education dramatically. Prison populations are 60% illiterate upon admission. So from a societal point of view, we need for our youngsters to read.

Now the good news! There are lots of people in this community who read to kids. Do your part and volunteer to read! Too busy? Can’t get off work? Start a neighborhood “Little Free Library” at your home or office. Not ready for that commitment? Donate books or money to others so that no kid goes without children’s books. One example is Dolly Parton has a great book program that sends a free book to children age 0-5 every month at no cost to the family. Go to to donate.

Just do something! Because childhood literacy begins with all of us!

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