The struggle for households to make time for reading, crucial to cognitive development of young children, is even harder for low-income families, researchers say.
To encourage parents in Montezuma County to make reading to their young children a part of their daily routine, the Cortez Public Library is embarking on a new Early Literacy program, the SPELL (Supporting Parents in Early Literacy Through Libraries) Program, as part of a larger statewide initiative.
In 2014, the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Colorado State Library with a $247,619 grant, which put the SPELL program into action.
With the funding, the Colorado State Library staff trained eight teams from public libraries, including one in team in Cortez, as well as early literacy organization partners on how to implement a state-library developed prototype to be employed in each community.
Cortez Public Library director Eric Ikenouye and children’s librarian Laura McHenry are using the state’s prototype program and a $15,000 grant to deliver early literacy messaging to low-income parents in the county. The Cortez early literacy program is called, “Read to Me, 21 Days to Form a Reading Habit” and features age-appropriate books, as well as “cuddle-up puppets” that parents can incorporate in the storytelling process. Participants also have subscriptions to online early literacy coaching software, ReadyRosie that features short videos.
Parents only “cost” to participate in SPELL is to fill out surveys the Cortez library has developed that help the library gauge how local parents and children use the resources.
“The goal with the program is to reach parents that normally wouldn’t have a reading habit with their children,” explained Ikenouye. “We’re really trying to get parents to understand how important that is for kids..(reading skills) can hopefully help level the playing field for them.”
McHenry says she is working on outreach to let local parents know about the free resource. The library is also working with local youth-oriented non-profits such as the Piñon Project and Montelores Early Childhood Council on outreach. McHenry is also planning a trip down to Towaoc to reach more families that might benefit from participating in SPELL.
The early literacy program comes at an opportune time for Montezuma County. Last month, the Cortez Journal reported that the number of Montezuma County fourth-graders not proficient at reading has steadily risen, from 44 percent in 2012 to 53 percent in 2014. On a state-level, 1 in 3 of the Colorado’s fourth-graders aren’t skilled in reading, according to the Colorado Children’s Campaign 2015 Kids Count report.
“We have such a steep hill to climb with electronics and modern living, with all the distractions and with some parents maybe it’s all they can do to get food on the table, give their kids a bath and get them to sleep cause they just don’t have the energy for anything else,” said McHenry.
For more information on the SPELL Program, visit the Cortez Public Library at 202 N. Park or call 970-565-8117.