By Joe Lamb
One of the most important lessons in Parenting 101 is also one of the shortest and easiest to remember: If you're not reading to preschool-aged kids, you're doing it wrong.
Literacy is the foundation of knowledge; this is well-known, but application of the old wisdom isn't universal. Parents are raising their kids in an age awash with on-demand kids' TV shows and movies (of varying quality) not only on TVs, but on computers, tablets and even phones - not to mention the angry or flappy birds. To steal a line from songwriter Leonard Cohen, it's easier for kids to get lost in that hopeless little screen.
Arkansas Preschool Plus (APP), a local nonprofit, is working to help parents teach their kids to lose themselves in a book instead.
Starting this year, APP has partnered with the Imagination Library, an international organization that puts together a curriculum of 12 age-specific books a year and mails them to a child's household from infancy to 5 years. APP has raised money to enroll more than 400 households this year, and they're hoping to get past 500 by next year.
"It puts books in the home, so yes, you're going to get literacy, but it also promotes interaction between that parent and that child;" Dr. Charlotte Green, APP's founder and executive director, said. "When the kid gets that book out of their mailbox, who are they going to run and show that book to? They're going to go to their parent or parents and say, 'let's read my new book!'"
A kid will mostly forget the TV shows and toys as they grow up, Green said. But time reading and playing board games with mom or dad won't be.
Michelle Ford, director of Conway's APP program, said that getting a book in their mailbox addressed to them "energizes" both the kid and a parent whose had a long day, and makes reading a more special event for both.
The program is free for parents. Which is good because a parent can drop a lot of money in a bookstore's children's section. The books aren't bargain-bin material either. There's a Caldecott winner in this year's reading list (1988's Owl Moon) and books in the popular Llama Llama series and the classics Madeline and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The first book is always The Little Engine that Could (published in 1930 and still hauling pocketknives over the mountain in its load of goodies for all the boys and girls), and the last is always Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!
The program is meant to work with other local efforts like Jim Davidson's A Bookcase for Every Child project and, of course, the Faulkner County Library, which has a great children's section (that includes another Caldecott winner, 2003's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers - this writer's favorite children's book and I challenge anyone to get their kids to the end of it without getting at least a little misty).
Some of the books also come with tips for parents reading to their kids (tracking the printed words with a finger as you read them and stopping to ask questions, for example). The Imagination Library was founded by singer Dolly Parton.