Guest Insights | The Importance of Childhood Literacy

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I devour books like food. Reading a great book is just as satisfying to me as a five-course fancy dinner with wine, or waking up from a restful night’s sleep. When I have time, there is no place I would rather sit than on a cozy chair with a blanket and a book in my hands. My love for reading did not happen all-of-a-sudden one day, instead, it started long, long ago…

My childhood looked very different from most. I grew up with parents who both worked jobs that took them out of the state each week, and my sister and I had various nannies/caretakers for most of our childhood. One of our nannies, Ms. Jo, was an older woman from our church. She started caring for me at the beginning of grade school and I learned many wonderful ways of life from her. She enjoyed cooking delicious meals and cheering for the Atlanta Braves, but more than anything, she loved to read. Part of our weekly routine was a trip to the public library. Ms. Jo showed me how to use my library card and where to pick out books that were just right for me. I was fascinated at how Ms. Jo could pick out books with so many pages and read them all before our library trip the following week, she was such an inspiration!  Some of my favorite memories include nights when my sister and I would sit with Ms. Jo on the couches in our living room and read our books together until it was time for bed. I loved to sneak a flashlight under my covers and continue reading late into the night…I needed to know if Scout and Jem saw Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird and I loved to pretend I was a March sister in Little Women. Books became more to me than just reading; they provided characters to inspire and family for me when mine was away so often.

For the last several years before coming to work for Catholic Charities, I worked with the local Head Start program. My eyes were opened to the number of children in my own community who did not have regular access to books in their homes. Head Start works hard to provide books and reading materials to families; they model reading and provide incentives for parents when they read with their children regularly. One of the favorite parts of my job at Head Start was inviting a child in a classroom to sit on my lap and read. My current role at the Family Connections program is Family Life Coach, a job that allows me to connect, support, and advocate for families. We provide books for children to read and we regularly give books away to families. Young children need books in their life!  If we teach them to read at an early age, they can grow up to do anything, truly. Early literacy skills mean that children can grow up to comprehend textbooks and graduate high school. It means that they can learn about different cultures and master new hobbies. Reading opens the door to new perspectives and a greater capacity to process new information. For a child living in challenging circumstances, reading means that they can imagine a different life in their future. For children who are often alone, books can provide characters from which to learn and grow.

While technology is important, nothing can replace the value of words on a page. Ms. Jo left a lasting impact on my life and inspired my love for reading. To this day, I keep several books stacked on my bedside table, and I still fall asleep with a book in my lap most evenings. All children deserve to learn how to read when they are young. They need adults to help practice with them and inspire them to keep reading. Volunteer at the library. Spend some time helping kids read in local schools. Support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Reading helps set the foundation for a brighter future!

Ali Jo Meier is a Family Life Coach with Catholic Charities of Central Colorado Family Connections program.

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