VERDE VALLEY - Between birth and a child's fifth birthday is when 90 percent of his or her brain development occurs. It's also known that a child's foundation for learning is being built during these same early years.
Even so, national data shows that only 20 percent of parents make it a habit to read to their young children.
A grant for $47,500 from First Things First to Yavapai College will help change that. The grant will be used to implement a community-based early literacy program called Raising A Reader. It is aimed at kids 5 years and younger, and it is being offered to child care centers in Yavapai County, including the Verde Valley and Sedona.
"We know that one of the best things that can prepare children to be successful is to read to them," said LeAnne Lawhead, program manager for the new Community-Based Literacy Project of Yavapai College. "Children who learn to love to read are more successful in school."
The literacy project promotes reading to children every day.
"Research shows even reading to your child 10 to 30 minutes per day increases readiness for school and prepares them to read independently," Lawhead said.
To that end, Raising a Reader will provide families, through their childcare center, with appropriate reading materials to take home. It's going to work something like a mobile library. Participating childcare centers are each supplied a total of 45 different books. Families then take home one of those books each week. When they return the book at the end of the week, they exchange it for another one.
After the participating families rotate through all 45 books, they each will receive a free book. The free books are donated by the local chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The payoff to families who participate in the program can be significant.
"Forty-four percent of our state's fourth graders are not reading at grade level," said Claire Louge, Community Outreach Coordinator for the First Things First Yavapai Regional Partnership Council. "The best way to reverse this trend is to expose young children to books before they enter kindergarten."
Recent legislation requires that children entering kindergarten this year will have to read at grade level when they are in third grade to advance to fourth grade. Louge said that for those reasons, the Partnership Council believes this program will benefit all education and local economies in the Yavapai Region.
First Things First was approved by Arizona voters and is funded through a dedicated tax on tobacco products. FTF improves and expands early education and health services for kids from birth to 5 years. Local FTF decisions are made by a regional council made up of local volunteers.
"We're grateful to First Things First for the opportunity to implement such an effective program and to collaborate with existing early childhood programs to enhance the good work that is being done," Lawhead said.
The program will begin serving children and families in Yavapai County in October. Childcare centers throughout Yavapai County are eligible to apply.
Childcare centers may get more information about the Community Based Literacy Program of Yavapai College and Raising a Reader by calling Carolyn Shelley, Raising a Reader Regional Coordinator at (928) 776-2245 or by email to Carolyn.firstname.lastname@example.org.