Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Hooked on Reading

NEA's Read Across America's picture

By Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association

It starts early. When we are maybe age three or four or five. When we are young and impressionable. Someone close to us opens a book and reads to us about animals that talk, ghosts that live in haunted castles or pirates in search of buried treasure.

And we are hooked. We can't wait for someone to read us another story that causes our imaginations to run wild. If you've ever shared a book with a child, you know the joy and excitement this small act can bring. It's almost comical how some children want to hear the same story over and over and over — they are so spellbound by it.

Research shows that children who are read to at home have a higher success rate in school and frequently develop stronger reading skills. Reading is the foundation of education.

Unfortunately, too many children have no one to read to them. The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that almost 50 percent of children ages three to five do not get read to on a daily basis. This is staggering.

We at the National Education Association (NEA) are working to change this. We offer a number of resources to help educators improve reading instruction and to help parents develop reading skills in their children. And each year we host Read Across America, an initiative that celebrates reading and literacy and encourages more adults to spend time reading with their children.

On March 1, across our nation, millions of teachers, education support professionals, community members, and parents will visit classrooms and libraries and community centers and read books to spellbound children as part of Read Across America. Many superstar entertainers, athletes and political leaders will break from their busy schedules to sit with a group of children and read to them.

Read Across America Day is significant to us at NEA and to the world of children's books because it falls on the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Since his March 2 birthday falls on a Saturday this year, we celebrate the official Read Across America Day today, March 1. It is a day when we celebrate his gift for telling stories that stimulate the minds of children, and adults too. And it is one of my favorite days of the year. I know how excited children get at these events because I've been there, yes, in my red-and white-striped stovepipe hat.

Of course, NEA does not do this alone. Over the 16 years we've been running this award-winning reading initiative, corporations, businesses, and nonprofits have teamed up with NEA to help promote reading and literacy. For the first time, NEA is teaming up with Renaissance Dental to focus on the direct link between children’s oral health and literacy. Did you know that American students miss 51 million hours of school a year due to oral health problems? Or that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease? As educators, we know that students who are absent because of oral health issues miss critical instruction time — especially in early grades where reading skills are an important focus and the building blocks of future learning.

This unique and exciting partnership brings back NEA’s Cat-a-Van Reading Tour that will travel to 30 schools, located in 17 cities in 14 states — and covering more than 5,100 miles from February 25 to March 1. We’re hitting the road with our Cat-a-Vans to encourage kids to follow the 2 x 2 + 20 = good oral health and literacy habits.  We’re asking children and their parents to brush for two minutes, two times per day and read for 20 minutes each day. That’s a daily total of 24 minutes focused on developing good oral health and reading skills.

So why do businesses like Renaissance Dental join in this effort? The reason is simple. They know that reading translates into academic success. It means fewer high school dropouts and more college graduates.

As the National Academy of Science seminal report on reading (Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children) states: "Research consistently shows that children who get off to a good start in reading rarely stumble; those who fall behind tend to stay behind the rest of their academic lives."

All children should have the opportunity to get off to a good start in reading. Through Read Across America and our other work on reading, we are hoping to give it to them. So, join us.

Learn more at Read Across America.

Adapted from a post that appeared on Education Week's Transforming Learning blog. Reposted with permission from Editorial Projects in Education.