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Notes from NYC's Read.Connect.Grow Event

Valerie Fischel

Last week the final Read.Connect.Grow event was held at the New York City Public Library to raise awareness about early literacy and the importance of families reading with their children. The event hosted speakers from the PTA, NEA, Jumpstart, Target, authors from Simon & Schuster and staff from The Parenting Group -- plus six of our amazing Mom Congress delegates attended, too. Check out Massachusetts delegate Heather Jack and North Carolina delegate Liza Weidle's posts on Read.Connect.Grow.

Greg Schumann, VP and Publisher of the Parenting Group, spoke first and crystallized the importance and crisis in early literacy with statistics like these: 44% of fourth-graders in the U.S. cannot read fluently. "You cannot overemphasize the magnitude of early education," said Schumann emphatically. Another sobering stat: Lower-income neighborhoods can average just one book per 300 children. On that, Schumann said, "The loss, or lack, of literacy translates to the loss of hope." Kids without a strong early literacy foundation fall behind in elementary and middle school...are more likely to drop out of high school...are less likely to go to college...and more likely to have fewer professional and personal opportunities available to them...and so the cycle perpetuates.

Although those statistics set a somber tone, hearing them also galvanized the speakers to talk about why and how they need to change. Emcee and Parenting Group Director, Digital Content, Strategy and Design Rachel Fishman Feddersen said that the most special time of her day is reading with her 3-year-old son. Kim Davenport of Jumpstart and the Mom Congress Advisory Board emphasized that the early years are the learning years, and that "you can oversleep, you can overeat, you can over-schedule but you can never read too much." Children's books author Brian Floca, whose most recent work is Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, made an interesting point about what type of books to read to your children. "I'm in favor of books kids can partly comprehend," said Floca. Reading is "not to tell them, but to make them want to know more."

But it was probably the charismatic Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association and Mom Congress Advisory board member, who moved the audience the most; as a former teacher she was bubbling with enthusiasm for reading -- so much so that she pulled out Robert Munsch's Love You Forever. It has been quite a long time since my own mom read me that book and sang that song, but I still felt a lump rise in my throat. Even after all that time, it still moved me (and most of the audience), because reading and sharing a book is a very special connection -- and it's so important to give each child a connection like that.

So what do we do from here? Go to the bookstore or the library, pick up a book and just read, read, read! Here's some tips to help you get started:

25 Books for Baby’s First Library
12 Ways to Teach Your Child to Read
The Best Books to Read With Your Kids

Happy Reading!