This is a fact that many Junior Leagues have embraced over the years with programs that encourage childhood literacy and look to involve parents as well as teachers in the process. Which is why we were delighted to see the recent announcement by the American Academy of Pediatrics asking its 62,000 members to take the time in office visits to tell parents of young children that reading aloud and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development and parent-child relationships. The statistics on the impact of underinvestment in childhood literacy are sobering. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
- A child from a middle-income family typically enters first grade with about 1,000 hours of one-on-one picture book reading time with parents, other relatives or teachers compared with a child from a low-income family, who averages less than 100 hours.
- First graders from lower-income families have a vocabulary half the size of children from higher-education families.
While the problem is not new, what is interesting to us is one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s primary calls to action: “Because public funding for education is often inadequate, it is important to look for organizations with programs that stretch these dollars by emphasizing community engagement, coordination, and pooling of resources and services.” Which, again, is what so many Junior Leagues have been doing for years. Just to pick a few examples:
- Getting books to kids and parents. The Junior League of Washington’s Resolution Read program puts new books directly into the hands of children who might not otherwise have access to them. In fact, in celebration of the League’s centennial in 2013, JLW members committed to purchasing and distributing 100,000 books to the DC community through existing community partners and organizations like Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Everybody Wins! DC and the D.C. Public Library.
- Reaching out to parents.The Little Bookshelf, a partnership between the Junior League of Baton Rouge and the LSU Ag Center that started in 2009, educates and motivates parents in their role as their child’s first and most important teacher during the early years of life. JLBR volunteers assemble 12 children’s books and parenting information for parents into book bags for distribution to over 1,500 families, as well as prepare literacy awareness and public service announcements throughout the community. Additionally, JLBR volunteers coordinate numerous literacy promotion and family-friendly readings around the community.
- Going where the need is greatest: Since 2012, Junior League of Washington members have also volunteered in The Literacy Lab’s Ready to Read program at DC General Family Emergency Shelter, the largest of Washington, DC’s government-run family shelters, and work with children and their parents through weekly Parent-Child Literacy Development Workshops. Ready to Read is a critical reading readiness program for families with toddlers and young children ages 0-5, providing a consistent amount of read aloud and print exposure to high-risk homeless children.
- Involving the community: The Junior League of Omaha’s A Book of My Own program strives to ensure that every child in the area aged 0-14 has one book of their own at home. The League works with community organizations such as schools and churches to collect new and gently-used books, which are then distributed through partner agencies such as Boys and Girls Club. In the project’s first two years, more than 36,000 found grateful new homes.
- Making literacy fun:The Junior League of Greater Lakeland’s Community of Readers project is designed to increase family participation and awareness of early literacy activities. By adding a literacy component to numerous community-sponsored events, JLGL annually reaches over 10,000 children and families. In addition the League hosts an annual “World of Reading Festival,” which promotes literacy in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere while introducing children to multi-cultural concepts. The event is free, and each child that attends receives a free Scholastic book. Each year more than 1,000 books are distributed at the event.