I walked into West Parish Elementary School this week, ready to serve as a guest reader on behalf of the local reading program called the First R Foundation.
On the surface, it’s a program, now starting its 11th year, that promotes reading and literacy in the schools. But it also provides a powerful reminder that anyone can harness the power of language and share it with children — just by reading a book and talking to them.
It’s far more than providing an entertaining 10 minutes of storytelling. It’s about helping children develop their language, which seems to be increasingly difficult in the 21st century.
In this age of technology, the attention of children is often more focused on their cellphones and computers than on the allure of a book. Yet, social media and chats with their BFF cannot replace the power of face-to-face communication with an adult.
Reading to children helps them learn about language; and the more language they know, they more they will succeed in school and the workplace. Reading aloud can help narrow the divide in what one educator refers to as the “socioeconomic language acquisition gap.”
But don’t let that phrase daunt anyone because any child from any household — no matter what their income — can be exposed to books and the richness of language. If a parent works two jobs, find a family member or friend to help you with that task. But the message is simple — just read out loud to your children.
That’s the bigger picture these days behind First R, a recognized local nonprofit that sends a number of community leaders out to the schools each month to read to kids in kindergarten and first grade across Gloucester and Rockport. The guest reader then leaves the books for the students to keep in their little classroom libraries — the First R program was launched when Gloucester’s schools first made significant cuts in elementary library funding in 2003.