Best start toward lifetime literacy: Read to kids while they’re young

Sharyn Weinheimer shares some reading time with her daughter Emma.

By Diana Nelson

Children in the Kyrene District may be ready to read at a younger age, thanks to active encouragement by Sharyn Weinheimer, who says that literacy is the most important indicator of a child’s readiness for school.

Weinheimer, who coordinates academic and behavior support for Kyrene, is passionate about the importance of reading to children. Her drive to encourage literacy inspired her to apply for a sponsorship with First Things First, Arizona’s only public funding source dedicated to early childhood development.

The organization, which invests in programs and services to improve the education and health needs of children from birth to age 5, responded to Weinheimer’s request with books to distribute to encourage family reading time.

“I created a presentation to use during our Positive Parenting Series,” said Weinheimer. “And, thanks to the First Things First donation, each family that attends one of our literacy events goes home with a free book that they can select.”

According to the First Things First website, 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5 and these early years are the best timeframe for a child’s brain to develop the connections needed to be healthy, successful adults.

Babies develop language and vocabulary skills from birth. In addition, important life skills like motivation and focus also begin in the early years. Gaps in children’s vocabulary start to appear as early as 18 months.

By the time children are 3 to 4-years-old, their vocabulary, attention and general knowledge are predictors of third and fourth-grade reading comprehension.

This relatively new understanding of early literacy development complements the current academic research, which supports the critical role of early experiences in shaping brain development, explained Weinheimer, who is more than a reading advocate for the district.

“I am called the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Coordinator for the Kyrene School District and I support academic and behavior intervention for the district,” she said.

As classes in Kyrene get underway, her message to families is to set aside time for reading at home—all year long.

“We provide practical strategies for families in the district to incorporate reading into daily routines in our already busy lives,” said Weinheimer.

It’s never too early to begin a lifelong love of reading, Weinheimer says. Even while an infant or still in the mother’s womb, reading has a positive impact.

“I personally love reading to my 6 and 9-year-olds, every night, before they go to bed. I recommend to start a routine to get in at least 20 minutes a day of reading,” she said.

“I also love to read series books with my children. For example, my 6-year-old daughter loves Junie B. Jones and we’ve read the whole series at least twice already! Or try the Magic Tree House series.”

The Kyrene District also has an increased focus on educating younger children, specifically 3 to 4-year-olds. Preschool continues to grow in popularity and helps to prepare children for kindergarten. All pre-school programs incorporate age-appropriate activities that help children reach their full potential cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally.

Information: kyrene.org

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