Fighting Illiteracy From Home

110 years after the birth of Dr. Seuss, schools across the country celebrate his favorite pastime through Read Across America events. It's clear though, this literacy conversation needs to be front and center more often.

The Literacy Center of the Midlands reports 16% of people in the Omaha metro are functionally illiterate. This means basic daily tasks are challenging because their reading comprehension is so low.

"Reading is our foundation of everything we learn or experience in life," says La Vista West Elementary School Literacy Facilitator Diane Rasmussen. "You're learning everyday. Your mind grows, and as you read, you learn new things. Open up new worlds."

Rasmussen says parents should begin reading with their children daily before they're even born. Mix it up while you can, because once little ones discover their favorite books, Rasmussen says, "You may read it 10, 15, 20 times, but that's okay because you're building up that vocabulary and fluency."

Before children can read themselves, Rasmussen recommends keeping them actively involved in the story. "When you're going to read a book to a child, talk to them about it before you start. 'This is a book about Goldilocks and the three bears'. Then start reading the book and asking questions between. 'What do you think is going to happen next?' So the child is engaged in the story."

As children get older, interest in reading for fun typically wanes. Rasmussen suggests reaching for whatever material could possibly spark their interest again. "Go to the graphic novels. Do comic books. Get magazines. Get any type of material in the hands of all ages of kids that they will enjoy and read." She says that includes not pushing material that's too challenging if it seems to drive them away.

Finally, she suggests parents make some changes if they've fallen into an alliterate lifestyle, meaning they know how to read but don't actively practice the skill. "Kids have to see their parent or guardian reading and then they think, 'Oh that's a fun thing. That's an important thing that I should be doing. If mom & dad are doing it, guess what? I want to do it too'."

As for technology and ebooks? Embrace them. They're a great motivator for most children, and apps can assist in the teaching piece. Don't be too quick to leave the old paperbacks to collect dust, though. Studies show most children still prefer to read a traditional book over a digital version before bed.

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