Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Power of Literacy

My mom loves to share that I came out of the womb reading.  Apparently by the age of four, she and I sat in the backyard and interchanged swinging with reading lots and lots of books.  My early childhood experience entailed she and I reading all the time to one another.

So, I have to say that it warmed my heart to discover that my oldest daughter is a reader as well.  She always has been.  Ever since she started sleeping in a "big girl" bed at the age of 18-months, she's gone to nap and to bed with a night light and a book.  Consequently, it shocked others, but not really me, that she was fluently reading by the age of three.  However, it can be embarrassing when she corrects her preschool teacher for paraphrasing stories when she's in a pinch for time. 

And now, on a daily basis, we all read to each other pretty voraciously.  Kate is a fan of Dr. Seuss, "Fancy Nancy", "Pinkalicious," and any book that we bring home from the library which is typically in the dozens.  Sam is a fan of chapter books...primarily, "Magic Tree House" and "Beast Quest" and anything that has to do with dinosaurs or sea creatures.  I chew on my Sunday New York Times as well as a library or book club book and Ray, well, he's constantly reading something online or listening to a podcast.

It struck me not long ago that reading is not a given.  Literacy is not a right.  Not all children are born into environments where it is encouraged or honed.  This is the greatest tragedy on the face of the earth.  I can not imagine not being able to navigate my way around a city by reading street signs.  I can't fathom being in a grocery store and not understanding a nutrition label or a sign pointing to the cereal aisle.  Most of all, I can not imagine being a parent and not being able to read medical or educational information on behalf of my child. 

When I first moved back to Omaha from undergraduate school, I became a tutor at the Literacy Center and developed a relationship with a girl who was only a few years younger than I was.  She was a high school graduate who couldn't read.  And, she was getting ready to expect her first child with a father that was in and out of the picture.  We started with phonics and moved to words, simple fragments, small sentences, magazines that were of interest, and then baby books.  The day we read "Good Night Moon" brought me to tears and the day I arrived to meet her baby girl, I was weeping with joy.

Since those early days in my 20's, I have never underestimated the power and the importance of reading.  It is a gift that every human being should receive and nurture. If you have the opportunity, share the gift of literacy with another.   

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