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FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2014, file photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Clinton to encourage reading in Hispanic families

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton is helping initiate a public service campaign encouraging Hispanic families to read, sing and talk more to their young children so they're better prepared for school.

About a quarter of all babies and toddlers in the U.S. are Hispanic, but these kids are half as likely to have family members read to them and a third less likely to have songs sung to them than white, non-Latino children, according to a recent report by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

The effort is part of the "Too Small to Fail" campaign started last year by the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. A partner in the effort is Univision Communications Inc., a New York-based Spanish language network that will run a series of public service announcements and news programs with segments focused on the topic.

Clinton was expected to participate in the campaign launch Tuesday at a bilingual Head Start program in East Harlem in New York. Clinton, a longtime supporter of early childhood programs, is a former secretary of state, first lady and senator of New York. She is considering another White House bid in 2016 and expects to make a decision later this year.

The focus of the campaign is simple: tackling what's known as the "word gap" by encouraging Hispanic families to focus on these activities for at least 15 minutes daily.

Research published by the late University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley in the 1990s highlighted the phenomenon in which children in professional families hear an average of 30 million more words by the time they are 4 than children of parents accepting public assistance, and 15 million more words than children from working-class families. Children with less exposure are more likely to start school behind their peers and not catch up.

Hispanic children are also more likely than their white peers to face other barriers such as poverty, frequent moves and hunger.

About a third of Hispanic children live with parents without a high school degree. Many of these parents don't understand the power of reading, singing and playing with their young children, said Sandra Gutierrez, national program director of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, based in Los Angeles.

Others, particularly immigrants, are reluctant to do educational activities in Spanish because they want their children to learn English, but the enrichment in Spanish would be good for their children, said Delia Pompa, senior vice president for programs at National Council of La Raza. Both Gutierrez and Pompa serve on the "Too Small to Fail" advisory board.

Pascuala Natalia Leal, 25, a mother of three who immigrated from Mexico as a young girl, said she thinks some low-income parents feel inadequate to teach the kids. At the same time, she said, families she knows either can't get their children into a Head Start program because of long waiting lists or they travel long distances each day so their children can participate.

"There's a lot of lack of information for families and parents," said Leal, whose daughter attends the Head Start in East Harlem.

Jose Pagan, 35, a father of two born in Puerto Rico, said many parents are just busy working so they can pay for basic necessities, but said "you have to make time for your child." His child also attends the Head Start program.

A large percentage of U.S. children don't have access to pre-school. In his State of the Union, President Barack Obama renewed his call for universal access to pre-K.

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Online: http://toosmall.org/

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Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khefling

Here are some tips for parents of young children:

– Talk with your child every day. Describing what you see through the window on the bus or counting the items in your shopping cart helps them learn.

– Turn it off, and tune in. Today, we're connected to our televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices more than ever. But, there's no substitute for time talking, playing and engaging directly with your child. So, "turn it off, and tune in."

– Read or explore books with your child for at least 15 minutes every day. It helps grow your child's vocabulary and feel closer to you.

– Hug, sing, and laugh with your child. These simple moments help your child bond with you and promote their brain development.

– Ask about your child's day, their feelings or give them a chance to tell you a story.

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Source: "Too Small to Fail" campaign by Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

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