Many parents know that sharing books with children is important. But it’s about more than just reading the story.
“It’s proven that there is more brain development when you’re read to interactively — that’s the way we do it,” said Ruth Cardenas, program coordinator at the nonprofit group Raising a Reader. “Plus, it’s funner.”
Raising a Reader, which distributes books to young children so their parents can read to them, recently expanded from preschool to kindergarten with a pilot program at Jose Ortega Elementary School. And, a $250,000 grant from the Masons of California will soon put Raising a Reader in 250 kindergartens across the state.
“It’s not just about reading aloud,” said Ortega kindergarten teacher Cynthia Young, whose students each borrow four books every week. “It’s about getting kids excited about books.”
Educators have long known that children from low-income families are less prepared for kindergarten. They are less likely to know their ABCs and less likely to have books at home. Raising a Reader aims to help these children catch up. That’s especially important at Ortega, a San Francisco public school where 60 percent of students come from low-income families and a quarter are just learning English.
“It levels the playing field,” Young said.
Earlier this year, Raising a Reader staff hosted an assembly to show parents the best way to read to their children. Cardenas recently demonstrated the technique at a Head Start classroom in the Western Addition.
“Does everybody see the lions?” she asked, holding up a picture book called “Giraffes Can’t Dance.” “What do lions say?”
Her audience, a dozen wriggling 3-year-olds, roared with gusto.
“Can you guys show me your sad face?” she asked, after reading that the giraffe’s inability to dance had made him depressed. The children scrunched their faces into frowns.
“Really, it’s engaging the children rather than just reading to them,” Cardenas explained later. “That’s so different from sitting and reading in a monotone, no talking.”