Next Gen: Highlighting early literacy during Children’s Book Week

By Susanna Barbee | May 07, 2014

Children’s Book Week (May 12-18) is a fun time to check out new book titles, but an emphasis on early literacy should be a priority always.

According to the National Early Literacy Panel, early literacy skills have a consistent and strong relationship to conventional reading skills such as decoding, oral reading, fluency, reading comprehension, writing, and spelling. Early educators know of the importance of early literacy and work to integrate a number of literacy activities into preschool classrooms.

Though early childhood educators can foster early literacy development, it’s imperative that parents also incorporate books, reading, and other literacy-related activities into a child’s home life.

Gayla Jones, Waynesville mom to Coleman, 8, and Kennedy, 4, has been reading to her children since they were infants.

“We started reading to Coleman when he was a baby. He got so excited he would practically tear the pages out of the book. We did the same with Kennedy because we were reading with Coleman every night. We just added another listener to the group,” said Jones.

According to leading researchers in the field of reading, it’s never too early to begin reading to a child. The brain grows and develops most rapidly in the first five years of a person’s life; therefore, this is a critical time for literacy exposure.

“I think time spent reading with your children is so valuable,” said Jones. “It is 10-15 minutes out of the day to sit down, relax, watch their faces light up, laugh, giggle, and be happy.”

While parents and children bond over books, the brain is learning and making connections that will impact a child’s future reading and academic success. Every subject area requires reading, so when children are strong readers, they tend to perform better in every subject, not just reading or language arts.

Allison Lee, owner of Blue Ridge Books in downtown Waynesville, said, “Why would a child think reading is important if he never sees his parents reading? A great activity suggested to me by a teacher is DEAR (Drop Everything and Read).

It’s a great idea to set aside a time for the family to do nothing but read. It can be just 15 minutes, but it’s relaxing and shows children the importance of reading.”

Many reading and literacy activities are simple and free. Merely talking with children and using good vocabulary helps foster literacy and language development.

Whether from a child’s school library or from the local public library, it’s important for parents to ensure books are always around and to create a scheduled time to read each day.

“I think both Coleman and Kennedy have learned how important it is to read and explore their imaginations,” said Jones. “I truly hope that our family reading time is as special to my kids as it is to Bill and me and that they will carry on this tradition.”

Children’s Book Week is a yearly event that focuses on early literacy and children’s book titles. Information about the week with corresponding activities can be found at

Many parents are unsure of what books to check out for their children. A child’s teacher or librarian, the public librarian, or a bookstore owner are all great resources when it comes to checking out or purchasing appropriate titles.

“There is an endless list of titles,” said Lee. “Asking the child’s teacher for summer suggestions is always a good idea, so that children can practice at the correct reading level. I’m always ready to make suggestions as well. Children are about to hit the soccer field and one of the new picture books is 'Betty Bunny Wants a Goal' by Michael B. Kaplan. For older children, 'The Girl from Felony Bay' by J.E. Thompson is still very popular.”

The Jones children love the Pinkalicious series and the Junie B. Jones series. Scholastic flyers that are sent home with students also offer a variety of titles and genres. Parents need to learn their children as readers and know what types of books and genres their children enjoy. This will make selecting books easier and more fun.

“We know that reading to a young child helps them learn to read later on and develops their imagination,” said Lee, “but don’t forget about how the time spent together also strengthens the parent’s relationship with the child.”