March Into Literacy

Posted by on Feb 24, 2014 in Articles | 0 comments

March Into Literacy

The month of March is dedicated (among other things) to promoting reading and literacy among children. This nationwide advocacy for literary awareness is sponsored by the Toys for Tots Literary Program, whose mission is to “offer our nation’s most economically disadvantaged children the ability to compete academically and to succeed in life by providing them direct access to resources that will enhance their ability to read and to communicate effectively.”

Undoubtedly, Toys for Tots will see a surge in cash and in-kind donations as Americans support a great cause during March. I (i.e. L. Cherelle) know first-hand a nonprofit’s paramount need for altruistic citizens and financial generosity because I’ve worked for several. But I am also reminded of the old saying, “Practice what you preach!” So what have you done this month (or lately) to promote the love of reading and literacy among children within your circle of family, friends, and community?

Money is not the cureall to this nation’s problem, and it has never been the panacea to illiteracy within the Black community. Grassroots initiatives, on the other hand, have always been effective in our community. A grassroots movement is naturally driven by the politics of a community and is effective because of its underlying genuine and people-to-people nature. To increase literacy, we need to adopt grassroots attitudes in our families, which includes fictive kinships. Simple changes in individual behaviors will spur a collective monumental effect.

We can all start by answering the following four questions.

When is the last time that you bought a children’s book?

You don’t have to be a parent to buy children’s books. I’m not a parent, but I do purchase books for children and teenagers—especially those with Black characters and themes. I have more than two-dozen books for children and teenagers. If a child is in my home, instead of watching television or sitting idly while listening to grown folks’ business, they can read a book. If a child goes to my bookshelf, they will find several books that are age appropriate and created in their likeness.

When is the last time that you bought a book for your friend’s child?

A great way to show a friend’s child that you care about their well-being is to give him/her a book—more specifically, a book with a lot words, not coloring pages. Promote their academic and literary development by giving them books year round. The African maxim, “It take a village to raise a child,” always stands as truth.

When is the last time that you read in front of child?

Children model behavior. If the adults in their lives aren’t reading, they won’t read. They need to see you turn a page every now and then. When you do read, make sure the action is deliberate. Make sure the child sees that you are creating the time and space within your busy life to read.

When is the last time that you heard an adult say, “I don’t like to read?”

If you’ve said this before, shame on you. If you’ve never heard this, you’re fortunate or constantly surrounded by adults who are avid readers. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard adults with the audacity to open their mouths and say, “I don’t like to read.” It’s a damning expression—one that no child should ever hear.

No problem (or speech) should come without solutions. So I offer two ideas to integrate into our communities.

Great Idea #1: Read at family reunions.

Family reunions are a great place to read. They’re always full of children. We can easily integrate a book reading into our family reunion schedules. If you’re part of a really organized family, you can designate a book several months prior to the reunion. When you gather, the family can discuss the book for an hour. If you’re really ambitious, select separate books for children and adults.

Great Idea #2: Create a book club for children in church.

Church is sometimes the only place that children are introduced to leadership. Sometimes it’s the only place they receive encouraging words. Sometimes it’s the only place they have to read aloud. Church is an opportune site for reading programs. A lot of Black churches have Children’s Church—the perfect “venue” for the promotion of literacy. Assign a book on the first Sunday and read the book on the fourth or fifth Sunday. For those really active church members, hold a fish fry, car wash, or fashion show to raise funds for book purchases. If you don’t have Children’s Church, simply designate time during Sunday School for a children’s book reading club. It’s time out for tradition. The church’s lack of innovation in this area could stifle our children’s literary flourishing.

Of course, there are other measures you can take with your child(ren), such as reading with your child on a regular basis, applying for a library card and visiting the library, or establishing reading requirements within your household. These are good habits for you to adopt with your children, nieces, nephews and cousins, and it sparks the possibility for them to rub these habits onto friends.

Why is it so important to promote reading among children within our community?

Unfortunately, poverty and illiteracy are interconnected. As posted on the Toys for Tots website, “in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books per child is one age-appropriate book for every 300 children (included in the “Handbook of Early Literacy Research”, Vol. 2 edited by Susan Neuman and David Dickinson). Aside from socioeconomic stressors, we need to promote reading because it creates a spirit of willingness, consciousness, and critical analysis. We need more children to grow into adults who are willing to seek answers; who are willing to seek resources; who are willing to learn; who are willing to subscribe to and/or buy community-centered publications and support the companies that publish them. We need children to develop the discipline to sit, be still, and explore with their imaginations through books because reading is the basis to self-empowerment.

To end, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with donating a dollar to a literacy program. But the donation does not replace our more direct personal responsibility to foster literacy among the children we raise and know. No national program can have the influence that we as friends, parents, aunts/uncles and cousins have.

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