Early Reading

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Want to change the world? Teach a child to read. Ellen Greenblatt has this Perspective.

I recently watched a 3-year old who does not know how to read share a book with a 1-year old who does not know how to talk. Snuggled together in a chair, they both already knew the behaviors of a good story time. The 3-year old pointed to text and pictures and waved her hands around as she named things, and the 1-year old, undeterred by the occasional swat away to prevent him from bending the pages, followed closely, punctuating the conversation with an occasional appreciative ‘OHHH’ and his only word—“uh-oh.” They were having a good time.

These two little ones already have a head start for future success, in school and beyond. I couldn’t tell their native intelligence, nor could I predict whether they would be poets or mechanics or mathematicians, but because they already know how to sit still, albeit oh so briefly, and look at and discuss, sort of, a printed page, they are, even now, ready for the conventions of school, of collaborative learning, of the business and academic world.

As I watched these two, I was struck by their good fortune in the midst of the inequities of the world, but the teacher/optimist in me still believes that even small steps can effect large benefits. Instead of just replicating and perpetuating what is, many groups are changing the pattern. Pediatricians endorse reading to kids from infancy, and even “prescribe” and give books to new parents. But because hardworking, less affluent parents might not have the time or resources to do what they know is good for their kids, we can help: just Google “volunteer to read to kids,” and opportunities pop up.

I became a teacher decades ago with the grand ambition to change the world, and I have retained that goal. My idea of the world I can change has, however, been tempered by humility and years. I now believe that if I, or any of us, can make a difference in the life of one child, we have indeed changed the world. Helping a child to love reading is changing the world.


With a Perspective, this is Ellen Greenblatt.

Ellen Greenblatt is a Bay Area educator.