Easy. Twenty minutes of your time each day. That's it. That's all. But what do I have to do? Just sit down with a little kid and listen. No, really. That's it!
For the last couple of years, I have been a kindergarten volunteer. I perform an incredibly crucial service. I listen while they read.At the beginning of the year, my little ones come to my table earnest and often frustrated. They want to please so much, but sometimes the letters and words don’t click. They start feeling stupid and useless and cornered. There’s nothing worse than watching the walls come down hard in a child’s mind, when they’ve convinced themselves there’s no way they’ll ever figure out the strange coded symbols on the page. If left to their own devices, without the constant encouragement and the patience of an adult (or stronger reader), many of these kids give up completely. Yet here’s the thing. If that adult is there, if that encouragement is there, if someone just listens…then, when they finally make the connections… honest and truly you can actually see these kids glow. You can see the world open up in their eyes, and they start carrying themselves differently, holding their heads up, and moving with more confidence. The teachers I worked with said that just having someone there to work on those reading skills helped to boost the kids reading comprehension scores as much as twenty-five percent.
Every kid learns differently, but here is what I have learned. Be patient. Be calm. Bribe like the dickens! Shiny stickers are better than hard currency where kids are involved. If my kids can get through one book by themselves, or at least keep trying without giving up, they get three stickers. Sometimes, I pick up a few prizes or certificates from the dollar store as bonus prizes. Last year, I had star stickers. There was a little girl who had struggled for so long in the beginning. At the end of the year, she pulled me aside and began reading book after book to me. She read twelve books in one sitting without a lick of help. I gave her a galaxy of stars. Every year, I ask the little ones to promise me that they will keep reading anything they can get their hands on. Months after the fact, several of them have sought me out to tell me they’ve been keeping their promise. What’s really wonderful is that the kids aren’t the only ones who get something out of this experience. When I think about the time I’ve spent listening to these little ones sounding out their words, my heart feels like it’s floating in my chest and I get all teary-eyed. The joy of learning becomes contagious.
I was lucky. There has never been a time in my life when I wasn't completely surrounded by books or by people who loved language. I remember clearly that I would pester every one of Mom’s bridge partners to come into my room to read me a bedtime story. Bless their hearts, they were teachers, too, and they just grinned and rolled with it. I took it for granted that everyone felt the same way, and everyone could read just like I could. I didn't realize how hard the struggle could be, especially when some kids never got the chance to practice reading aloud to others.According to Do Something.org,
“2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.” (https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america)The Literacy Project Foundation states that “
Illiteracy has become such a serious problem in our country that 44 million adults are now unable to read a simple story to their children.” (http://literacyprojectfoundation.org/community/statistics/). The site goes on to mention that
“Between 46 and 51% of American adults have an income well below the poverty level because of their inability to read.”Literacy Partners.Org states that
“Worldwide, 775 million adults — approximately 12 percent of the world’s population — are considered functionally illiterate, with only basic or below-basic literacy levels in their native languages”. (http://www.literacypartners.org/literacy-in-america/literacy-facts).
It’s hard to change the world all at once, but every person can have a ripple effect in their communities, and that can have a ripple effect on the whole. Today, I ask you to be the stone in the pond, and start rippling out. Read to a kid. Let a kid read to you. Do the voices, make it exciting. Then encourage them to do the same, and remember how great it was when people would tell you stories. Fan a spark of interest into a consuming bonfire to learn. I cannot imagine my life without a profound and enduring love of words. This world, and so many more, would have been completely closed to me. Read with a kid. Your impact will be greater than you’ll ever know!