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Cincinnati Enquirer - Groups Boost Toddler Literacy

BY CINDY KRANZ

A Cincinnati organization is at the forefront of a new initiative to help close the literacy gap for children ages 0-3.

Every Child Succeeds is teaming up with The National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville to implement "Literacy Begins at Home," a pilot project with a goal of increasing family literacy through in-home visits.

Sharon Darling, founder and president of The National Center for Family Literacy, said studies show that by age 3, children living in poverty have heard about 30 million fewer words than their peers living in higher income households led by professionals.

Often, children in poverty start school two years behind their counterparts in literacy skills, she said.

"We know that it's so important for young children to develop the prerequisite skills for reading. By kindergarten age, they're behind before they get started, particularly if they come from homes where there's not printed material or parents don't know how to encourage literacy development," Darling said.

Every Child Succeeds already provides home visits to at-risk, first-time mothers and their infants for three years. Parents are taught practical techniques to promote healthy physical, mental and emotional development. Now, parents also will learn how to help prepare their children to be readers.

The pilot project will help The National Center for Family Literacy learn more about the prerequisites children age 0-5 need to be readers, skills that predict whether they'll be readers and good readers, interventions that produce results, characteristics of children and the environment that contribute to or inhibit reading.

The center is creating a curriculum to improve language development, vocabulary and other literacy skills. "I don't want anybody to think that means sitting a child down with flash cards," Darling said. "It's what you can do through play, asking questions and talking about pictures while reading."

Home visitors from Every Child Succeeds will bring books, toys accompanied by books and manipulatives. They'll also help parents understand they can get books from the library, and even without books, can make up rhymes and stories.

The home visitors will determine how much mothers know about helping prepare children to read, how they're changing what they're doing, and whenever possible, will assess the children to see what gains they're making.

"One of the reasons we were so attracted to that organization is they really are data driven. They really do a lot of assessment on the other components of their program. They're really serious about letting the results influence their practice," Darling said.

Initial funding for the three-year pilot project comes from two $75,000 donations from Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing North America, based in Erlanger, and the Charles H. Dater Foundation in Cincinnati.



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