Growing Little Brains

By reading to children 20 minutes a day, the impact will last a lifetime.

by Beth Crider, Peoria County Regional Superintendent
Henry Blackwell
Retired Caterpillar employee and community volunteer Henry Blackwell reads to students in Peoria Public Schools.

What if I told you there was a formula to student success? That there was a way to close the achievement gap—and that this “magic” is not a new technology or program? Reading aloud (and counting aloud) to children every day are the most important things to grow a young brain. Spending time with real books in the comfort of someone’s lap—or counting out loud on a walk or in the car—will develop pathways for learning that will last through the entire school experience.

Evaluating School Readiness 
In June 2019, the Illinois State Board of Education released the results of the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey; the state average for students demonstrating readiness in fall 2018 was just 26 percent. Readiness is defined as displaying the skills, knowledge and behavior in three developmental areas—language/literacy, math and social emotional development—within the first 40 days of school. Kindergarten teachers implement the survey to collect the data, and districts can then identify where more resources may need to be allocated to make sure each child has a quality learning experience. With average readiness at 26 percent, it is apparent the majority of students across Illinois need additional support. 

Children who read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school on time than those who cannot.

Our community has an opportunity to move the needle for our youngest population—we want all children to be ready for kindergarten and beyond! It is time to Read Peoria! Through the Align Peoria organization, tactics have grown around the need to improve third-grade reading scores in Peoria Public Schools. According to a special report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a student who is not reading proficiently by third grade is four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than one who is reading proficiently by third grade. Additionally, 74 percent of students who fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade falter in the later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma. 

Moving the Needle
Knowing that the way to improve student achievement is through reading aloud, tactics have centered around getting books into children’s hands, where they gather, and getting caring adults to read out loud to children for at least 20 minutes a day. Check out some of these tactics and join in our efforts to move the needle on kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading scores:

  • Little Free Libraries: One Align Peoria team focused on the construction of Little Free Libraries at all of Peoria’s public primary attendance centers—so children will have access to books all year long. Help us keep the libraries stocked by finding the school closest to your home or business and adding a few books! Encourage the children in your home to get a book and exchange it for a new one.
  • Slide Into Summer: Another Align Peoria team focused on the so-called “summer slide.” Students living in poverty can experience loss of as much as two to three months of academic gains in the summer. After an exciting launch day in June, the program focused on getting the word out to families to join a summer reading program. All Peoria Public Libraries supported this effort! Make sure all the children in your life read all summer long.
  • Hosting a book box: Children go many places with their caregivers. This Align Peoria tactic centered around assembling book boxes and distributing them where children might have to spend time waiting, such as churches, car dealerships, doctor offices and laundromats. Could your business or office host a book box? They are easy to develop—just grab a small plastic tub and visit one of our local used bookstores to fill it up. 
  • Coming soon… This fall will mark the launch of a massive book drive across the City of Peoria. Watch for information about how you can donate any books in your home that have been loved by the children in your life who are now grown up. These books can be put to great use growing the brains of future Peorians!

Early childhood matters. The brain formation that occurs up to age five is critical, and so hard to replace or repair. Help us support all children in Peoria by joining in and sharing our message to read at least 20 minutes a day with the children in your life. The impact will last a lifetime! #read20 #readpeoria PM