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July 1, 2009 > Raise a reader

Raise a reader

By Meredith Eidem

"I got my first big break when I was five," actor Sean Connery said, "I learned how to read." Now children in Milpitas can learn to love reading during their pre-kindergarten years so that they can be ready to start school.

Raising A Reader is a national literacy program whose mission is to foster healthy brain development for children who are younger than five; even babies can benefit from this parent-child bonding time of reading aloud daily.

"It's a way to help and to see how important kindergarten readiness and pre-literacy skills are" said Alicia Santamaria, Manager of Community Outreach.

Raising A Reader started in San Mateo County in 2001 and has grown to benefit 35 states with 120 affiliates such as school systems, libraries, and local United Ways. It is headquartered at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. "This program is very unique and special. It helps parents overcome barriers of reading and sharing books."

Rose and Randall elementary schools in Milpitas offered Raising A Reader in 2008 with 11-13 families enjoying learning how to engage their children in storytelling. Some families have English as a second language.

They retain their first language, may read in that language,all the time being aware of the importance of parents and caregivers sharing books with their children. They form special bonds with their children, realizing this time could be "a jumping off point to tell stories or to be counting." It is a large component of the whole process of getting children ready for kindergarten.

The popularity has grown so much that during the 2008-2009 school year, 66 families with limited contact with books in Milpitas participated. Program professionals trained parents in interactive read-aloud strategies and early brain development. Everyone wants to learn.

The program provides four story books each week and some learning sites are in local libraries so that families can bring home even more books each week to enjoy. Results from independent evaluations showed that library usage by Spanish-speaking parents in Santa Clara County grew by 337%.

"It is so rewarding to see the children grow. Children and parents are so excited!" exclaimed Linda Lambert, Coordinator, in Milpitas. "The goal is to strengthen Milpitas kindergarten children to get them ready for school."

For those who are interested in participating, Raising A Reader will commence when the 2009-2010 school year starts, contingent upon grant funding.

Contact llambert@musd.org for more information about book cuddling and developing a love of books so that children are ready to learn to read.

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