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One more reason to love and support literacy on Main Street, Lake Placid, this holiday season

December 10, 2015
Lake Placid News

To the editor:

A funny thing happened on my weekend walk to Main Street, Lake Placid. My holiday shopping to-dos became wholly focused on the gift of reading.

Frank Bruni's recent New York Times Op-Ed, "The Gift of Reading" on Nov. 25, got me thinking about reading as a fundamental, life-long habit of mind - a habit that I, a long-time elementary school teacher, celebrate even as I recognize that a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy reports that 32 million adults in the U.S. can't read, 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a fifth-grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can't read. Then there is the dismal data on the results of our nation's third grade reading test.

Bruni's commentary reminded me that, like grocery stores, our local bookstores and public libraries are essential features of a healthy community. He points to the wave of current research on "The Early Catastrophe," the 30-million word gap that arises by age 3 and divides children from the wealthiest and poorest socio-economic backgrounds creating a seriously uneven pathway to early and ongoing learning.

This is a critical reminder for why reading aloud to babies and children, sharing nursery rhymes and ensuring engagement with books, stories and language (think holiday songs) well before your baby turns 18 months old is part of what it means to be a responsive and responsible parent.

Bruni began his commentary with these words:

"The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.

"Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

"Something else, too, and it's meted out in even less equal measure.

"Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

"Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don't blaze well before elementary school, a child's education - a child's life - may be an endless game of catch-up."

The landmark Hart and Risley childhood literacy study in 1995 (University of Kansas,) identified "remarkable differences in the early vocabulary experiences of young children. Simply in words heard, the average child on welfare was having half as much experience per hour (616 words per hour) as the average working-class child (1,251 words per hour) and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family (2,153 words per hour). This is important because vocabulary development during the preschool years is related to later reading skills and school success in general."

As independent bookstores, not to mention thriving Main Street USAs, are being erased from the template of daily living in America, as children turn more and more frequently away from books and towards screens, and as the season for giving approaches, let we who are lucky enough to live in places that include bookstores and enchanting public libraries on our Main Street make certain we keep the gift of reading alive and well. A classic story read aloud, and the gift of a book-most especially for the children in our lives, for their teachers, for the local public and school library bookshelf - is the gift that keeps on giving.

Bruni's "The Gift of Reading" reminded me to close my screen, dash away from the ease of Amazon, and to take a leisured stroll down to Main Street and our local bookstore, The Bookstore Plus. How else to better recall and recapture - " 'Twas the night Before Christmas, when "

Karen Balliett

Lake Placid



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