6:51 p.m. PDT October 29, 2015
“It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”
These words, written by a columnist under the pen name of Ann Landers, rang true on Thursday as children ages 3 to 5 received backpacks filled with the tools they need to start learning to read.
Thursday morning, 14 children in Baker Elementary School’s Head Start program received small backpacks that included three books and an envelop filled with resources for parents. The envelop including things such as a bookmark, information on apps to help children think critically, the schedules and hours of important organizations and buildings around the Salem-Keizer area and more.
The project is called BEAR, which stands for Building Early Academic Readiness. The project was made possible by a community partnership between SMART, Delta Kappa Gamma women educator’s society, Salem-Keizer Head Start, Community Action Head Start, Willamette Family Medical Center’s Reach Out And Read program, and The Early Learning Hub Inc.
The concept, according to Jennifer Columbus of SMART, is to provide Head Start students with “mobile libraries” in the form of backpacks filled with books and literacy materials that can travel with the child from school, to the doctor’s office, and home.
The BEAR backpack giveaway and SMART reading session at Baker’s Head Start was the first of many. Approximately 150 students from six different Head Start sites will receive a BEAR backpack in the coming few weeks.
With three new books and information about each partner, as well as their first SMART book of the school year, the students will be well equipped to start learning to read. Additionally, from now until May, these students will take home two more books each month and can add them to their BEAR backpack. For students who go to the Willamette Family Medical Center for medical visits, they will receive new books at each well child exam.
“(The backpacks) are wonderful!” said Kathy Martell, a spokesperson for Delta Kappa Gamma. “The more books we can get in their homes, the better.”
Experts say that reading aloud to children helps children acquire early language skills, develop positive associations with books and reading, and build a stronger foundation for school success, according to the Reach Out and Read program.
“We are big fans of little kids learning to read as early as they can,” said Nap Steele, head of medical at Willamette Family Medical Center.
Prashanthi Kaveti, another spokesperson for the medical center, agreed, saying that reading at a young age can increase their vocabulary and lay a foundation for future academic success.
“Expanding their vocabulary to 3,000 words before kindergarten is an indicator of more academic success in the future,” she said.
Kaveti also spoke to the importance of connecting physical health with literacy.
“We help to start building habits,” she said. By children checking in with their physician at their well child exams about their physical health and reading progress, they reinforce the importance of reading.
“They will do better in school, get better jobs, and have better lives,” she said.
Kaveti said that many families don’t have books at home for their children, which limits how often the children read.
Michael Finlay, program manager for SMART, agrees that early intervention is important.
“They develop a love of books, and of reading inside and outside classrooms,” he said. “It’s really hard to do anything in class if you can’t read.”
Finlay said those who are not exposed to reading as frequently do not develop a habit to read for pleasure.
“We want to create lifelong readers and lifelong learners,” he said.
npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate