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To raise a bright student, read to your baby

May 30, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The best way to prepare children to succeed in school, local educators say, is for parents to start reading to them as soon as they're born.

Research shows that children who are read to by their parents early on become better readers when they get to school, the educators say.

"Success at graduation is dictated by the skills children have when they enter kindergarten. We expect them to have fundamental reading skills. It's critical that they be better prepared when they arrive for school," said Schools Superintendent P. Duff Rearick.

To help parents the district launched a First Steps to Learning program last fall. It's designed to show parents the importance of reading to their children as early as possible. It also helps them decide what to read and offers a lending library of books and information packets at the Greencastle-Antrim Primary School, said Molly Moran, communications and arts coordinator for the schools.

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The program encourages parents to talk to their babies about routine things like explaining what they are doing when they dress or put on their shoes - to immerse them in language to expand their vocabulary.

Although off to a slow start - fewer than 25 parents of preschoolers showed up for two workshops for the program held during the year - officials are optimistic that participation will improve.

"Next year the 20 parents who showed up this year could become 30, then 60 until it grows exponentially," Rearick said. "All we can do is offer it to parents. We can't drag them in. If this doesn't grow then we'll step back and see what else we can do to get parents interested," he said.

"We believe that learning can start at birth. Babies begin to learn the rhythm and rhyme of the language from books like nursery rhymes. They get to hear the patterns of language," Moran said.

Babies also learn how books work, she said. "Things that we take for granted like that books are read from left to right, top to bottom," Moran said.

"Research shows that the best path to success in learning is for parents to read to children, and the sooner, the better. It adds to a child's language development," she said.

Moran sent about 275 letters to new parents after finding their names in the county's tax records. "We spread the word about the program in the school newsletters, by sending letters to parents and in the local papers," she said.

Parents who participated in the program this year were asked for their opinions. Most said they didn't realize the importance of reading to their children that young, Moran said.

"It's hard to talk and read to babies who can't talk back," she said.

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