Submitted by Nancy Phillips, South Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, Calloway County, Ky.
Teachers in our schools today are under a lot of pressure to try to compensate for the inequalities in family background and financial stability that children bring to their kindergarten experience. Children with large vocabularies and literary skills soar while those with meager exposure to words and stories have great difficulty leaving the runway. No teacher, no matter how talented, can truly make up for what is not taught before the children enter school. Two college teachers at South Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (SPG), who spent many years in remedial education at Murray State University, know first-hand the results of students who started illprepared for the academic rigors of college. For some students, lagging behind started in kindergarten. Many children struggle to keep up; some never attain what they could have because they were not raised in homes where during their first years of life they received a daily diet of books.
According to the United States Department of Education, “children develop much of their capacity for learning in the first three years of life, when their brains grow at 90 percent of their eventual adult weight.” Even though pediatricians and psychologists have recommended that children should be read to beginning at birth, 6 in 10 babies and 5 in 10 toddlers are not read to regularly in their home. Although books are available in public libraries, only 37 percent of children in the United States ages 35 visit a library at least once a month. Instead it is estimated that children 35 spend an average of 13 hours and 28 minutes a week watching television. Overall, children under 13 spend 90 minutes a day watching television shows. Assessments show that passive television watching does not have the same impact as parents who talk, sing, and read to their children. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that students with higher reading scores were more likely to have at least 25 books in their homes.
With these numbers in mind, a group of United Methodist Women made it one of their goals to try to make readers of the children in Southwest Calloway County. Beginning with a summer program in 2015, children in the neighborhoods of SPG were invited to join a reading program on Wednesday evenings at the church. The middle and high school students at SPG assisted elementary age children read books aloud. The preschool children were read to by the older students. The adults organized group readings, crafts, activities, and snacks to enhance the ninety-minute program. The goal was to make reading fun for all ages.
In the fall of 2015, the reading program was changed so that older children and youth could return to their regular Wednesday night Bible studies. The preschool children were allowed to continue story time with a rotating team of about 6 or 7 different United Methodist Women (UMW) members. The church adopted the same reading program used at the Calloway County Library so that the women did not have to create thematic lessons without readymade suggestions of books, songs, and activities. The UMW paid for these materials.
One of the members of SPG donated book bags to both the preschoolers and elementary age children so that the children could carry books back and forth from and to the church. The books were donated by individuals in the church and in the community. The little library of books is still in its infancy but is growing. Hopefully with a new building next year, the children will have shelves and reading tables in a separate room to use for their program. The Wednesday night program begins with meal at 5:30 and reading time follows at 6:00. The program started with ONE preschooler in August and now has four little ones listening to stories and songs. This program has enabled us to reach children and families in our communities that we previously did have anything to offer this youngest age group. If you happen to pass the nursery on Wednesday evenings, you will see and hear some animated kids who are enjoying books. South Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church hopes to continue the summer program targeting all ages and possibly begin a daytime program next year.