The Buffalo News 

As a child care provider, I have come to learn how important early literacy is to helping a child build a foundation for success in learning.  I had always been focused on telling kids to stay out of trouble or to say no to drugs.  After 25 years of communicating this message, I began to feel like I was going in circles with the same routine, day in and day out.

Something needed to change, and after becoming involved with the Project CARE (Community Alignment for Reading Excellence) program through Read to Succeed Buffalo, I realized that I had to start embracing the importance of early childhood literacy.

I have learned that incorporating literacy into child care means more than just reading a story; it is about developing a literacy program that fits both my needs and the needs of the children in my care.  It means incorporating language at every opportunity.

The children pick out the books they want me to read, as opposed to what I think should be read.  I have books everywhere - cookbooks in the kitchen center, animal books in the area about our trip to the zoo and baskets of books in our cozy corner.  Books not only teach children how to read, but the stories in them can reinforce important life lessons.  A story about the importance of healthy eating or about how things are constructed also help children outside the classroom.

Now, instead of just jumping right into a book, I take the time to ask the children questions to get their minds going, such as: "what do you think the story is about?" by looking at the cover or "what do you think might happen in the next chapter?"  For very young children who enjoy looking at the pictures, I point out what different objects are in the illustrations to help teach them vocabulary they might not otherwise be exposed to.  This one-on-one support and guidance has been very important in allowing me to introduce literacy into my program while at the same time showing the children that learning, and more importantly reading, is fun.

This new approach also has impacted the parents because they see how books are benefiting their children and notice a difference in their interaction and dialogue.  The children now engage in more conversations, their vocabulary is widening and they have a desire to read even more.  When we go for walks, they identify with things they have read and point out different letters and words on buildings and signs.  They also can't wait for our weekly library visit.

When the children arrive in the morning, they now head straight toward the books instead of picking up a toy, and they read those books to their dolls and to each other.  Literacy has opened a whole new horizon for them.

Embracing literacy is one of the best decisions I've made in my child care program.  Every day is a new adventure.  It has allowed me to expand the quality of care I provide while fostering a desire and willingness for these children to learn from a very young age.

I love my job because I'm inspiring children to learn and develop a thirst for knowledge that they will carry with them into kindergarten and beyond.  In order for our children to stay out of trouble and go to school, we need to get them to embrace literacy.  Literacy helps to build a solid foundation of language and learning for our children and their families.  If there is one thing I have learned over the last 25 years, it is that being successful means being able to read.