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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018 1:00 am

Book learning

SCAN workers see firsthand the benefits of parents reading to their youngsters

John Peirce, Becky Hill and Ginny Clark

John Peirce and Becky Hill are advisers to the BookStart Initiative; Ginny Clark is the founder.

“Did you know that reading a book to your infant son will make him smarter?”

That little nudge from a SCAN (Stop Child Abuse and Neglect) home visiting professional and a gift of some enticing children's books were all it took to convince one mom that she should read regularly with her child. “He became the smartest little 3-year-old,” said Healthy Families Supervisor Debbie Hamilton. Her story was one of many that emerged during a round table discussion of how SCAN's families benefit from a steady supply of age-appropriate books for infants and toddlers from the BookStart Fund.

The BookStart Fund provides new books for infants and toddlers to eight Allen County agencies, including SCAN. The agencies give the books to low-income families and work with moms and dads to encourage them to read to their children.

“Most of the families we serve have no books in the home,” noted SCAN home visitor Valerie Wiggins. “One mother I provided with books had four children under age 4. She would use a book to quiet them all down at once. I was in awe.”

Home visitor Stacey Dickerson told how getting some bilingual books allowed a grandmother who speaks only Spanish to read to her grandchildren while their mom worked. Mom and the older siblings then read to the younger children in English.

Bilingual books do more than just allow some parents to read to their children.

“They appreciate how it helps them bond with their children,” said home visitor Marisela Barrientos. “One family with five children had lots of videos in the home, and that is what they would watch together. Now they read books. The mom loves how they are bonding as a family.”

The home visitors teach families to use expressive voices when reading, to point to pictures and leave books out for children rather than putting them away. They teach parents who can't read to make up stories for the pictures in the books because it is the language, gestures, closeness, repetition and back-and-forth that nurture relationships and prepare children to read.

Fatherhood Program Manager Robin James shared how books help fathers who want to build a relationship with their young children after being separated from the home. “Dads in our program often don't know how to take that first step,” she said. Reading a book provides a way where there seems to be no other. “They call us their bookmobile when we show up with a box of books in our trunk. Kids and dads love it,” James said.

“I tell my families that words are brain power and reading to their children will help them in every subject they have in school,” said home visitor and former teacher Laverne Lafrentz.

Family Support Specialist Leslie Gibson says she sees books she shared with families still being used when she visits six months later. All agreed that upward of 90 percent of families will continue reading with their children. BookStart is helping the families prepare their children to be successful in reading, with all that means for their futures.

BookStart uses money donated to the BookStart Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne to order books at discounts of at least 50 percent. To learn more about the BookStart Initiative, including the book selection criteria and how to support the fund, go to BookStartFund.org.

John Peirce and Becky Hill are advisers to the BookStart Initiative; Ginny Clark is the founder.