Thursday, September 1, 2011

Early childhood…

Do you remember the first book you had read to you? My answer: “I haven’t the slightest clue!” The earliest book I can remember, though, remains a favorite: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

We didn’t own it at my house, mind you. I only encountered this Dr. Seuss classic each winter when Mom and Dad would drive sisters and me to grandma’s house near Chicago. There, Grandma Ray would read us The Grinch, seemingly every time we asked (i.e. every day ending in –y). In part, that was the classic “see how late we can stay up by having grandma read multiple bedtime stories” strategy. But mostly, we loved the book, and especially the sound of Grandma’s voice as she inflected and soothed, entertained and taught. Suffice to say, my grandkids will encounter The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and I hope they love it as much as I!

It turns out that my early childhood experience was lucky. From early on, I recall understanding how books worked, how to turn the pages, etc. Not just Grandma, but my parents and others had taught me- before I could make conscious memories- that reading and stories were worthwhile pursuits. My wife would tell you that maybe they did the job too well, that I spend too much time reading now! But as a researcher of early childhood education, she’ll also tell you that giving young kids the gift of reading is as good a gift as any.

Did you know that some children enter kindergarten having no idea what a book is, or how to use one? Coming from my home, that would’ve been impossible. But why would you, at age 5, if your parent(s) didn’t value reading, or were always working, or were illiterate, or couldn’t afford books…?

Did you further know that the most significant predictor of a child’s future success (after the predictable big two- Race and Family Income) is the number of books present in a child’s home? When Tabitha told me that, it blew my mind. Of all the educational investments we make, whether a family has a book, bookshelf or library of books for children ages 1-5 matters the most. Of course, it’s not just the books. It’s what they represent- respect for education, capacity to buy books, stability in housing. Still, reading to kids has an outsized impact on their future, well before they can read themselves.

One role I play on behalf of Plymouth Creek is to serve on the Advisory Council for IOCP’s Caring for Kids Initiative. CfKI provides some low-income families that IOCP serves with affordable, quality early childhood education (and children’s books!). It’s a great program, since one important antidote for factors that weigh on a child’s potential is to give the kid great childcare. Multiple studies show how munchkins from low-income families who receive good pre-K education perform much better than their peer groups. Further, they save society anywhere from $8-15 in future costs (reduced income taxes, prison, welfare) for every $1 invested.

But great childcare is expensive! Hence, CfKI, which in a few short years has built capacity for 80 local kids to receive great childcare (the need’s about 400, so we’re getting there…). And a recent study of CfKI’s work more or less ‘proved’ its effectiveness. Pretty cool table for PCCC to sit at, amen?!

Anyway, I mention all this because CfKI has a fundraiser on Saturday, September 17 at the Hilde Center in Plymouth. Called Family Fun Night, and it should be, well, a blast. A ‘walk’ begins the event, followed by a showing of Toy Story 3. Plus Games, Music, Face Painting; a child’s perfect night out. So if you or neighborhood families want an enjoyable evening, that also supports an incredibly effective initiative for poor families in our community, stop by. More info’s available at, or on the bulletin board at church.

And please join me in prayer for all the children in our midst. May they have love and guidance at home and elsewhere, as well as folk all around working to make their future better.

Even if that’s a simple as reading a book.

Grace and Peace,

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