The right foundation: Early Literacy Program focuses on educating parents as well as youth

WHEATLAND – For the past year, the Platte County Early Literacy program has worked to provide resources and education for parents on the importance of developing literacy and language skills in infants.
The program was funded with an Early Childhood Partnership Grant.  The grant has not been renewed by the State, and organizers are now searching for ways to continue the program in the community.
Susan Bednasek, who taught school in Platte County for over 30 years, is one of the organizers and founders of the local service.
Bednasek said that it is vital the program continue, so that its success can be measured among the children participating.
Working with the local library and other organizations, the program works to distribute books to parents as early as possible.  The program has been well received in the area; Bednasek said that the “Book and a Bite” program at the Platte County Library, which offers a snack and reading time for children, began with only 15 participants, and now hosts well over 100 local youth.
Bednasek said that the program strives to educate parents on the importance of early exposure to literacy and language, and proper interaction with children in their first months.
While education of children is important, she said that it was the education of parents that was even more vital for the success of the literacy program.  She noted that most parents do not realize that interaction with children can even begin pre-natal, and it is never too early to start reading to children.  She noted that without proper interaction, children begin school recognizing significantly fewer words than their classmates who have had early literacy development.
Although the Early Literacy program can help children who are older than one-year of age, the first 12 months of development are crucial to ensuring children are ready to begin reading when they start kindergarten.
“By the time those kids hit school, it is going to be too late,” she said.  “Yes, they are going to learn to read, and they are going to learn to decode, but by the time they are in third or fourth grade, all of the vocabulary that other children already have and can continue to build on will leave the others at a huge disadvantage.”
Bednasek said that the Program promotes reading at least 1,000 books to a child in his or her first year.  While this may sound daunting, she pointed out that this can be done by simply reading 3 books a day to a child.  Additionally, the program encourages parents to allow infants to interact by simply being in the same room.  Bednasek said that listening to a conversation or a parent’s voice will also allow a child to develop their language skills more effectively than television or other electronic devices.
To combat ongoing illiteracy among children, Bednasek said that the Early Literacy program has started offering prenatal classes to parents through the local hospital.  The Early Literacy program continues to follow up with parents enrolled in the program, to encourage them as they continue to read and interact with their children.
“This is where we need funding,” she said.  “We need to continue follow up with parents to make sure they are still reading to their children.”
Ultimately, she said that in order for the Platte County Literacy Program to succeed, parents in the community will have to get behind the efforts of the organization in order to halt the cycle of illiteracy.
“The culture doesn’t really change,” she said.  “Not unless we all come together as a community and make it something that everybody believes in.  It is not just a cute idea.”
The community café will be held on May 9 at 6 p.m. at Platte Valley Bank, and is open to the public.  Comments and suggestions will be taken to explore options to continue the program.

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