Mijares: Reading aloud to children builds a foundation for learning — and a better life

Whether you’re an educator, a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle or even an older sibling, there is something special about reading to a child.

desk-of-al-smallWith each turn of the page, horizons expand, and new shades of the world emerge. With each line of a story, you can practically see the neural connections forming within a young mind.

I bring this up because March is designated as National Reading Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to reflect on not just the importance of literacy, but the benefits of reading aloud to children at an early age.

Research shows that literacy begins long before our kids even enter school — and in fact, critical developmental steps are taken shortly after birth. This is not to suggest the teaching of reading prematurely. But from their earliest months, children gain tremendously when we talk to them, share stories, introduce them to culture and expose them to books with simple pictures and bright colors.

First 5 California, an organization dedicated to supporting children during their developmental years, says reading aloud to babies strengthens their vocabulary skills and stimulates the growth and development of brain cells. Their research further indicates that children who are regularly read to as babies know more words by age 2 than those who do not have this benefit.

Studies also show early literacy is a key indicator of future success.

Among students who don’t read proficiently by the end of grade three, about 16 percent fail to graduate from high school on time — a rate that is four times greater than that associated with proficient readers. And the percentage spikes even higher when you factor in levels of poverty.

Here at the Orange County Department of Education, we are promoting a vision that Orange County students can and will lead the nation in college and career readiness and success. But that vision begins with our youngest learners as they take their first developmental steps toward literacy.

Reading to a child doesn’t just establish a foundation for learning; it paves the path to a better life. And it can be pretty rewarding for us grown-ups too.