The rewards of reading to children

January 22, 2023

For one year, I was a focus teacher for a team of eight kindergarten classroom teachers in a school where 95% of the population spoke Spanish. I was hired to help 5-year-olds learn all 26 upper and lowercase letters of the alphabet before the Christmas holiday. The ultimate goal was to ensure all students were able to read at grade level by the end of the school year.

I had taught English as a second language for 15 years and had written ESL curriculum, but I was still daunted by this new challenge.

On day one, my first group of four children opened baggies with magnetic letters that spelled their names. Their first task was to spell their own names and name the letters out of sequence. They traced them with big fat crayons on pink and green construction paper.

I rotated four children at a time from eight different classrooms for these lessons every day. One week we all learned the T, then the E. We recited the alphabet together every time we met. At the end of September, a dark-eyed little boy named Derrick asked me, “What is an LMNOP?”

I was confused at first. I handed him the yardstick, and with two small hands he rested the tip on the Lion card on the bulletin board. Then we found the M for mouse. When I said, “A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K,” he understood those were letters. But when we chanted LMNOP in rapid succession, he thought it was one letter and one animal. Think about how fast we say that part of the alphabet.

When I visited a teacher friend in the United Kingdom years ago, I marveled at the pictograph of her alphabet. C for castanets. G for gurgle. Gurgle? An American child would struggle with these words.

What I learned that year was how much miscommunication there can be between students and teachers. And it alarmed me how few students ask questions when they don’t understand.

Recently, my oldest grandchild asked me to be her pen pal, and I am over the moon with joy at this opportunity to communicate. We live too far away for me to be involved in her daily life. Whether you’re a grandparent or aunt or uncle to a younger family member, it is awesome to nurture the love of reading and writing. And you don’t have to be related, either.

So many children don’t learn to read until they enter school. Read Aloud Delaware is a program that helps children learn to read by the time they enter kindergarten. Its mission is “to ensure that each preschool child in Delaware is regularly read to one-on-one.”

It’s a new year and maybe an opportunity to volunteer in a life-changing role. My year as a focus teacher was a successful one. I kept a satchel filled with Beanie Babies, and when the children learned all their letters, they got to choose one animal to take home. Derrick chose an elephant, and he laughed and said it was really an LMNOP.

Visit to consider making a difference in children’s lives.


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