Suzanne Perez Tobias

Too busy to read to your kids? Now there’s help

Can’t wait to read.

That’s a message you’ll be seeing on billboards, television commercials and social media over the next few months, as the Kansas Health Foundation launches a statewide campaign showing parents why they should read to their children early and often.

It may sound simple, but the nonprofit foundation’s $2 million effort acknowledges that we need to do more to help young children start school ready to learn.

A recent project by The Wichita Eagle showed a disturbing trend in early childhood literacy in Kansas. Nearly two-thirds of Kansas fourth-graders are not reading at grade level, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And research shows that kids who don’t read at grade level are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to end up in prison or poverty.

Here’s the challenge: Most Kansas parents know reading is important. But they’re short on time, and they’re not sure how to fit reading into their busy routines.

Parents of toddlers may wonder what to do if their child won’t sit still for a book. Some worry that they’re not solid readers themselves. Or they can’t read English and don’t want to confuse their children with multiple languages. (Important point: Being bilingual does not slow down or confuse children when it comes to reading. In fact, it’s often an advantage.)

The Kansas Health Foundation’s new campaign and website, ReadWithThem.org, offers advice for parents and caregivers where they live — online and on their mobile phones. Parents can sign up for 28 days of texts or e-mails, in English or Spanish, that feature free tips, resources and information about organizations that can help their kids learn.

The overall message: Start now. Take just a few minutes to share words, sing songs or look at pictures in a book. Play a word game instead of a video game. Make up an alphabet game at the grocery store: “’A’ is for apple. ‘B’ is for banana . . . “

As the campaign so effectively points out, “The window for early learning closes quickly on preschoolers. If they don’t experience reading before kindergarten, they may never read above a third-grade level or finish high school, and they could see their life choices shut off.”

Low literacy costs communities in a big way, and it shows up the first day of school. All of us need to do whatever we can to to read to children, encourage parents and get books into families’ homes.

Kids can’t wait to read. And we shouldn’t wait to help them.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.
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