About 1,000 Onondaga County Families are getting access to more resources to help children with language and reading through in-home visits. The national “Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing” campaign designed to encourage parents to engage in language-rich activities with their children at an early age.
Onondaga County is the 12th community to adopt the campaign which is aimed at visiting families already receiving support from other social service organizations. Director of the Early Childhood Alliance Laurie Black says starting early is key.
"Learning begins at birth. Parent's are their child's brain builder, and that simple things like talking, reading, and singing can build their child's brain. That's what's exciting....we all have the ability to talk, read, and sing. What we need to do is motivate parents with the knowledge that they have to be doing it from birth."
Because, she says, children risk falling behind very quickly, and won’t be ready for kindergarten.
"About a year of age, you start learning to speak and use words. We start seeing this education gap begin at about 18 months. Kids in low-income families or low-literacy families are having fewer words at their disposal than children at older ages. By three years of age, that gap can be as much as 600 words."
Black says only 38 percent of children in Onondaga county are developing their reading skills on grade level by third grade. In the city of Syracuse, it’s just 15 percent.
"We know that didn't just happen in third grade. We know they come under-prepared to kindergarten. What the Early Childhood Alliance is doing is focusing on where we can make the biggest impact in that 0-5 time frame and working with parents."
As part of the visiting program, a trained professional will stop by once or twice a month for about an hour to counsel and support parents. They even drop off a bag of interactive toys and books that expose children to letters and sounds. Black says “reading” is as easy as pointing out pictures and naming them…
"Parents should be reading from birth 20 minutes a day with children. By reading, we mean picture walks, talking about the book. So, the words are not as important as it is to describe what you're seeing in pictures. That's why children's books are so beautifully illustrated."
For some parents, though, finding that 20 minutes can be difficult. Or, they might not like to read. But Black says there are always talkable moments.
"Whether you're in the grocery store, walking down the street, in your home, there's so much to talk about narrating the day. It's incredibly important that children hear language, especially in that first year. The brain is being wired to eventually produce language itself."
The home visits will continue through March. Black says they’re trying to spread the message through billboards and posters, and hopefully, by word-of-mouth. She hopes they can reach every new parent and remind them of how simple it can be to talk, read, and sing with their children.