The importance of early childhood reading

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Six-year-old McKenna Hodder listens to some of her favorite stories, then shows off her own reading skills.

“I like reading because it’s fun sounding out words. And when I don’t do anything, I don’t like to just play with my toys, I like to learn because I don’t want to be stupid when I grow up,” Hodden said.

The kindergartner, a student at St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Sayreville, is attending their annual literacy night.

“When you think about it, all subjects dovetail off language, and if you don’t know how to read it becomes very difficult to do math problems, word problems, it becomes difficult to read about Social Studies,” said principal Elena Malinconico. “All of my teachers work under the premise that literary is taught in every class.”

“Children learning to read in their early age is really important because the longer they go in school, the more complicated reading materials get, the more complicated vocabulary gets. What we know is around 4th grade or so, we really start to see the divide between students who are well prepared and who are ready to keep excelling in school and kids that are really going to start to struggle,” said Erik Jacobson, an associate professor of early childhood, elementary and literacy education at Montclair State University.

The Nation’s Report Card indicates 49 percent of New Jersey fourth-graders and 47 percent of eighth grade students performed at or above the NAEP proficient reading level. That’s higher than the national average, but Jacobson says the numbers should be higher, not just in the state but nationwide.

“With this emphasis, with this focus, we still haven’t been able to make a huge dent in the issue of students not meeting the proficiency standards that we’ve set,” he said.

Early literacy isn’t just about understanding letter sounds. That’s the building block, but not the limit of what early childhood education should be about when it comes to reading and writing, says Jacobson.

“It really has to be about a full range of activities, encouraging a love of reading, encouraging a love of language and encouraging a love of storytelling,” Jacobson said.

At the St. Stanislaus Kostka School event, teachers read stories to students in English and Spanish and they make arts and crafts projects on the book’s characters. The principal says more than 80 percent of her students are reading at or above grade level.

“Well I like the part where when you read it, you imagine it, and then you think it in your mind, and then you see it,” said student Max Abe.

“It’s in all of my subjects and it really does help because you get to understand if you don’t understand a problem in math or any subject, reading it again can actually help you comprehend what it’s asking you and what it’s basically telling you,” said student Cate Williams.

St. Stanislaus Kostka has been coordinating a literacy night for the past four years. They even give kids cookies and milk for a little extra comfort while they’re reading. Teachers volunteer their time, and parents must attend because the school also offers them tips on how to enhance their kid’s literacy at home. And every child leaves with a free, new book.

Hodder also loves when her mom reads to her.

“From such an early age you have to model reading to them and make them understand it’s an important part of everything they do,” said Lori Hodder, McKenna’s mother.

Literacy New Jersey indicates the single most significant predictor of a child’s literacy is their mother’s literacy level. Jacobson insists a child’s first literacy instructor is their parent because it gets kids thinking about the nature of language, vocabulary and how stories work.

By the end of the night, these students were eager to read their new books and explore other adventures.