Early Childhood Literacy

As we near almost ¾ of a year spent in the grips of a global pandemic and as the COVID-19 infection rate climbs again in Michigan, the question of when we return to normal won’t be answered anytime soon. Issues that were of concern before the pandemic have been put on hold as we attend to coping with our new reality. However, many of the fundamental struggles in our community are only going to be exacerbated by waiting. One of those areas of top concern is education and literacy in our region.

In our 5 county area, the majority of third graders are not at grade level for reading, one of the measurements deemed necessary by the State of Michigan. TCAPS had roughly 60% of 3rd graders testing at grade level in 2018-2019, while only 40% of Kalkaska 3rd graders were proficient at reading. Kindergarten readiness, another measurement of a child’s social, emotional, physical and mental ability to thrive in school. So knowing that children in our area are struggling prior to the pandemic, what can we do now to help our children?

One of the most useful assets a child has is their parent or caregiver. One of the focuses at United Way of Northwest Michigan is getting parents and caregivers the information and resources they need. One program we have rolled out, Bright By Text, is a free texting service that send 2-5 messages a week to about the development and tips for prenatal through age 8 years. Text NWMI to 274448 to sign up your child, and receive content curated by partners such as PBS, the CDC, and local agencies concerning resources and activities.

Another program that we are helping roll out in partnership with 5toONE and Great Start Collaborative Traverse Bay is Talking is Teaching; this public awareness and action campaign focuses on what parents and caregivers can do to build brain development and vocabulary during the early years 0-5: simply talk, read, or sing to your child. The first part of this campaign will roll out in November across our 5 county area, focusing on physician/pediatrician offices, food/baby pantries, WIC offices, and in Welcome Baby packets from local hospitals.

My daughter is currently 18months old. Bright By Text let my wife and I know that she developmentally is learning new words all the time, as many as 1 a day. We explore our house, and I ask her questions, such as “what do you need to set the table for dinner?” and we point out plate, fork, cup. Bright By Text said our daughter would be working on playing pretend, so we pretend we are going on a tropical vacation and ask “what should we bring?” or even “what animals will we see on a tropical island?” Helping her imagine a fun trip, and working on coloring it in together after, builds our relationship and her development at the same time. These simple steps are the great foundation any parent or caregiver can use to improve kindergarten readiness, development, and ultimately, literacy.