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Imagination Library Gains $5 Million in State Funds

Governor Mike DeWine signed a new State of Ohio budget into law last week, which includes funds to support The Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

The budget grants $5 million to support Imagination Library across the state. The funds will cover a portion of the cost of books and mailing. This support helps pave the path for every child under the age of five in Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio to receive a brand new, age-appropriate book in the mail every month. The program is free for families.

Bob Paponetti, CEO and President of The Literacy Cooperative, spoke with WTAM’s Mike Snyder and Bill Wills Wednesday morning about this important step toward increasing early literacy and promoting a love of reading.

“It’s clear that this is changing what’s happening in the home,” Paponetti said. “Families are reading more together as a result of getting these books.

This is the first time Ohio’s Imagination Library program has had provisions in the state budget.

Listen to the full interview below and sign up for the program here.

Julie Gilliland on Why She Loves and Appreciates the Cleveland Public Library

Julie Gilliland is Associate Director of Marketing at Cleveland Play House and our guest blogger for this post. She tells why she is a friend of the library and why libraries are so important.

Did you learn everything you need to know in school?

No? Me neither. I grew up in a state(no, not Ohio)  that did not value education or dedicate tax dollars as it should have. The minute I left that state and started working in a “grown up job” I realized what a disadvantage my lack of education was.

I’m a privileged human who grew up in an upper-middle class household with an intact and functional family. I am sure that for this privilege I was carried on the backs of others from less fortunate circumstances. I cannot imagine the albatross, the inadequate education system, was for those who were left wanting. My insecurity could have morphed into the form of the consummate university student never wanting to leave school, thinking those letters behind my name would mean I was finally whole. I am much too frugal for that expensive path. Thanks to scholarships and a string of part-time jobs, extra work on movies and commercials, I paid for my public university bachelor’s degree in the arts and started my career in the non-profit world.

A benefit to the arts career path is a built-in scholarly lifestyle. I have always been surrounded by voracious readers and seekers of knowledge. My colleagues love travel and palate-expanding cuisine. The love of travel rubbed off on me but I sadly still have a peasant palate. I realized I love lifelong learning, and reading is my favorite way to learn. That fire inside me that started as a desire to beat my in-laws at Trivial Pursuit ® only grew from the honeymoon on.

I have a little secret confidence booster I keep in my purse. It’s my well-worn library card. I’ll never stop learning. And it wasn’t because I strapped on the burden of debt from a master’s degree. I fell in love with the Cleveland Public Library. Clevnet.org is my guiltiest pleasure. Reading books for free?! And you get to return them so they don’t collect dust in every corner of your home?! Sign me up!

When my husband and I need to figure out how to fix the washing machine we check out YouTube. When I need to figure out how to spell “hors d’oeuvres” I check out Google. When I need to submerge myself in the calming flow of words I check out a book. You can download it, flip through the pages, or listen to it—they are all forms of that glorious little thing we call a book. Whether you prefer the smell of a new book when you crack it open, an old tattered book that has passed through many loving hands, or the inviting blue light of reading on a device, it’s all the joy of knowledge we gain from reading. Imagine a world where no one reads? Without our varied and fabulous library systems here in Northeast Ohio we might meet that horrible fate. I’m a friend of the Cleveland Public Library, The People’s University, because they have been a friend to me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my book. It’s waiting on the bedside table and it is due back next week for the next adventurer. It’s a beautiful little gift we pass back and forth. Talk about enjoying your tax dollars at work. Want to get to know your new best buddy?  Visit my friends at https://cpl.org/ to access one of the best library systems in the United States and continue lighting your path of learning today.

 

Julie Gilliland is Associate Director of Marketing at Cleveland Play House, the recipient of the 2015 Regional Tony ® Award. She has worked for The Cleveland Orchestra, Playhouse Square, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Visit her at www.juliegilliland.com.

 

Integrating Brain Building into Your Everyday Routine

Closing the word gap does not require complicated equipment or long hours spent in special classes. There are no PhD degrees needed. It is as simple as talking, singing and reading with your kids every day beginning at birth. Although you may think your baby cannot understand what you are saying, your words help to build and develop their brain. It is as simple as paying attention to the opportunities the day gives you. Your daily routine is full of moments to help build your child’s brain. Many do not realize that it is the short simple moments that can make all the difference.

Take a look at the following example of an average daily routine. Does it sound familiar?

Your alarm goes off and you quickly get up and begin to prepare for the day ahead. You shower and get yourself ready before the baby wakes up and the other children get out of bed.

Once you’ve managed to get the kids out of bed, you move to the baby’s room and get them dressed and change their diaper. Once the kids are up and moving you head to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and lunches. As they eat you get the last things you need for your day set. Then it is finding backpacks, homework and shoes and getting into the car. You drive them to school (or summer camp), drop them off and head off for your day with the baby. Whether that is going to work, running errands, doing housework or whatever else your day may consist of that needs to be done before the school day (or summer camp) is over.

The final bell rings and you gather the kids into the car for the drive home with the baby in the backseat.  Once home it is time for homework, checking in on the day and preparing dinner. Dinner is eaten and you have a few hours to unwind, maybe you switch on the TV, the baby beside you, in a swing or on a play mat with some toys or the kids go off to their rooms while you relax, before it is time for shower/baths and the bedtime routine. Once the kids are asleep you finish up your night and then head off to bed, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Do bits and pieces of this sound familiar? Are you reading it over and wondering where the extra time needed to build your child’s brain is?  No extra time is needed; it is more about using certain moments differently.

Let’s take another look at that day again.  In the morning as your older kids are dressing you are getting the baby ready for the day. This doesn’t need to be a silent endeavor. As you change and dress your baby, talk about what you are dressing them in. “Let’s wear your green duck shirt today!” Or a simple game of peek-a-boo, “Where’s Mommy/Daddy? Here I am!” would be a great way to start the day.

In the morning as the kids are eating breakfast, what else is going on? Is it quiet? Is everyone absorbed in their own tasks? This moment would be the perfect time to hand them a book or read with them as they eat. Doesn’t even have to be a book; could be the back of the cereal box. Many of the boxes have mini-games to play, such as mazes and breaking codes. Sit down with them and do one of the games together. They get to hear new words and use problem solving skills while you get to have some bonding time with them.

Is the baby babbling away in a high chair as they eat breakfast? Make sure to include them in the conversation too! Ask them about what they are eating, “Are those bananas yummy?” If you are reading a story, be sure to share the pictures and colors with the baby as well. Point out an animal and say “Look at the puppy run!”

Are you making lunches as they eat? Why not talk to them about what you are doing? Instead of just chopping up lettuce, carrots and cucumbers for a salad, talk about the shapes you are cutting them into? Are they rectangles? Squares? Triangles? Talk about the color or smell. Ask your kids if they know how and where each vegetable grows.

The time in the car is another great moment to integrate some brain building tasks into your day. Instead of giving them a tablet or turning on a movie to occupy them, try playing a game of I Spy. As your drive point at a street sign and ask about the color or shape. When you stop at a STOP sign, spell the word out or have them point out the letters to you. You can also find some great silly and fun songs to sing together. (Here, here and here have some great ideas for songs to sing together.) Silly songs are great for all ages from infants to older children. Infants will benefit from the fun music and can babble along as you sing!

Dinner time presents great opportunities for including more talking, reading and singing into your day. As you cook have your children help.  Have them read the recipe with you. Talk about the measurements and the time needed for specific things to cook. You can even put the radio on and sing together as you work.

Helping with dinner doesn’t just have to be something to with only the older children. Make sure to have the baby in a high chair where you can watch them and talk with them as you cook. Narrating what you are doing is great, such as saying “Mommy/Daddy is going to stir the noodles. This is going to be so delicious!”

At the end of the day, instead of turning on the television and watching a rerun you can pull out a board game, build with blocks or color in a coloring book with your child. Those unwind hours can be a great time to do something creative and fun with your child.

For the smaller ones, toddlers and babies, set out a blanket with some interactive toys. (Be sure to limit background noise because too much noise has been shown to inhibit language development.) Let them play and talk with them as they play. Talk about the bunny or puppy stuffed animal they are playing with. If they are playing with a toy piano talk about the sounds it makes and colors on the instrument. Or even pick them up and take them to a window and talk about the stars and animals outside as you bounce them to sleep.

There is no better way to end the day than with a good bedtime story. Read aloud together a favorite book or pick something new. Read with your kids (even the infants) or have them read along with you or for young children, have them tell you the story based off the pictures. Even if your child can read on their own, many still enjoy that time reading together. Pick a longer chapter book and read a chapter a night.

As you can see integrating practices to build your child’s brain into your everyday routine doesn’t take fancy equipment, training or tools. You just need you, your child and a little creativity. Every day occurrences can be ideal times to build skills if you take the time to think about them. Especially for infants and toddlers this is a significant way to help build their skills. Just because they may not understand all the words you are saying does not mean those words aren’t helping their brains to grow. To learn more about how talking, reading and singing helps your baby’s brain grow be sure to read our other blog post here.

Summer is in full swing and you most likely have more time with your kids. Prevent “the summer slide,” the phenomenon where kids can lose some of their learning over the summer, by starting to add some of these things to your routine.

Use this time to test ways of integrating more talking, singing and reading into your everyday routine. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Do your kids prefer singing in the car versus the I Spy game? Do they like to help read the recipe instead of talking about the color or shape of foods? Do they have a favorite story that would be good to read during swim breaks?

Summer provides more time for testing some of these ideas. You have more time with your kids outside of school. As you can see these ideas are simple and quick but they can make all the difference.

We are spending the year raising awareness about the 30-million-word gap (learn more here) and what can be done to close it. Join in the discussion and share what you are doing with #wordgapcle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

Building Your Baby’s Brain

“They grow so fast,” is a common phrase parents of newborns and toddlers hear often. This is a true statement not just for their physical growth but their mental and developmental growth as well. Did you know that by the end of age 3, a child’s brain will have completed 85% of its physical growth? In these handful of years, the brain strengthens many of the areas of the brain that a child will need throughout their lifetime.

The brain is made-up of the neurons which broadcast messages using electrical and chemical signals. The connections between neurons are called synapses. These messages are the physical basis of learning and memory and are what build a baby’s brain. What the brain does is create a surplus of synapses and neurons, twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, a process called pruning takes place. The process involves keeping synapses that are used often and that are strong while removing synapses that are weak or rarely used. An example would be if a child hears language and conversation often, the language area of their brain strengthens and grows. If a child is rarely spoken to or hears most of their vocabulary and language from a screen, that area weakens and does not develop to its full potential. Genes provide a blueprint for the brain, but a child’s environment and experiences carry out the construction.

This construction and pruning process is why it is so important to talk, read and sing with your child from the very beginning of their lives. Hearing your voice, taking in the sounds and words around them allow them to build that language area of their brain. Strengthening their vocabularies and literacy skills will be essential for their success later on in their lives.

In 1995, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risely conducted a study that found children from low-income families will have heard 30 million less words than children from more affluent families by the age of four. They are not hearing words and are not using the language area of their brain which in turn means the brain is likely to prune those synapses, weakening that area. This is a process not easily reversed. This gap creates a serious disadvantage for children, a disadvantage that will follow them throughout their lives.

Bridging the gap and strengthening these synapses is not a herculean effort. It does not take expensive equipment or extra schooling. It is actually something that can be done easily and every day; talking with your child. Talking, singing and reading may seem like simple tasks but they are simple tasks that can make all the difference.

By talking with your child each day, while driving, cooking or getting ready in the morning, you are strengthening that vital part of their brain. You don’t have to have long complicated conversations. Simply describing how you are cutting up a banana for breakfast or what color the street signs you are driving by are, utilizes these synapses. Reading a book before bed and singing while cooking dinner also increase use of these vital areas of the brain.

The first few years of a child’s life are essential for development.  All parents want their children to succeed. One way to ensure this future success is by making sure that a child’s environment will aid their brain development. You feed your child nutritious food to help their bodies grow. Their brains need the same care and nutrition, provided through daily interactions. Adding talking, singing and reading to your everyday routine will help strengthen these vital areas of the brain.

This year we are working to increase awareness about the 30 million word gap and share ways to close it. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as follow #wordgapcle to stay up to date on what we are doing and to learn more about the word gap and to promote the power of parent talk. Also be sure to share how you are working to build your child’s brain. Share pictures or videos of you reading or singing together with #wordgapcle. Help us spread awareness and show that it is possible to begin to close the gap.

(Article used for information in this post: http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/why-0-3/baby-and-brain)

Help us to continue to fight the low-literacy crisis in Greater Cleveland this #GivingTuesday!

sun_swooshAt The Literacy Cooperative, our mission is to work to advance literacy by raising awareness of the issue, promoting effective public advocacy and fostering a delivery system with maximum impact on the region. This #GivingTuesday we need your help to be able to continue to fulfill our mission.

In Cuyahoga County 435,000 adults read below an 8th grade level. To put that into perspective, we could fill every seat at First Energy Stadium, Progressive Field, Quicken Loans Arena, Wolstein Center, Public Auditorium, Public Hall and Playhouse Square with Cuyahoga County’s low-literate adults and there would still be 260,000 people left standing in the street. Many adults are unable to read bus schedules, medicine labels, nutritional information or their children’s homework. Making it difficult for them to find jobs, to keep themselves and their families healthy and for them to help their children succeed in their education.

Children who are born to illiterate or low-literate parents are less likely to be read to or spoken to at a young age. This creates a word gap from the very beginning of a child’s life. In 1995, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that low-income children are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers before age 3. These children are behind from the very beginning of their lives.

There are communities in Cuyahoga County where more than 80% of children entering kindergartners are not academically prepared for school. From the very start, these children are facing an immense challenge — they start school having to play catch up in order to succeed in school. They have limited time to close this gap. By the end of third grade, children are reading to learn instead of learning to read and if they are not proficient readers by that point it becomes much more difficult for them to catch up to their peers.  One in six children who are not reading proficiently by third grade will not graduate high school on time. These children are more at risk of dropping out of school and becoming part of a cycle that becomes difficult to break.

Children need to be exposed to literacy and learning from a young age. When parents are engaged in their child’s education, their children are more likely to get good grades, have fewer behavioral problems and are more likely to graduate on time. Unfortunately, this becomes difficult for low-literate parents. They are challenged to engage with their children’s schooling and therefore are unable to help them succeed academically.

The Literacy Cooperative is uniquely qualified to maximize the opportunities and provide the literacy leadership needed for real system change. For the last 10 years, The Literacy Cooperative has worked to improve literacy in the Greater Cleveland area. We concentrate our efforts in 3 focus areas, Early Literacy, Adult Literacy and Career Pathways, and Parent Engagement. With our 3 focus areas we cover all the areas of literacy, maximizing our efforts to help Greater Cleveland citizens improve their lives and thus help improve the community.

In the last 10 years, we have helped parents to be their child’s first teacher using SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to fullerton-1Assure Ready Kids in Cuyahoga County).  We are coordinating our community’s Reach Out and Read program to help new parents understand the importance of reading to their children daily and connecting them with infant and toddler programs to help in the learning process. Using an evidence based program, STEP, Supporting Tutors, Engaging Pupils, we trained hundreds of tutors to use structured lesson plans to assist children struggling with reading. We continuously advocate for adult literacy services connected to career pathways to allow low-literate adults to engage in training and employment that leads to family-sustaining wages.  That’s why we are leading a partnership with northeast Ohio adult education providers and workforce development agencies to develop and implement contextualized curriculum programs in the Manufacturing, Healthcare, Hospitality and IT sectors.  We advocate for the increase of adult and early literacy funding and stronger policies that provide greater opportunities for our low-literate residents to receive support and wrap around services to succeed. We partake in days like International Literacy Day and Read Across America day to bring awareness to the importance of literacy. To learn more about our work, be sure to take a look at our website or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

To continue to be an agent of change, The Literacy Cooperative needs your help. On Tuesday, November 29th, #GivingTuesday we are asking you to support our work with a contribution.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving back to the community celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. #GivingTuesday was started in 2012 and was created to offset the intense shopping of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. People across the world come together to support and contribute to worthy causes and organizations. On Tuesday, November 29th we are asking for you to make a donation through our GiveGab page or through the donation button on our Facebook page. Through your generous support, we will be able to continue to fight the low-literacy crisis in Greater Cleveland.