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Call to Action

Posted By Georgia Decker, Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Call To Action

By Evelyn English


By age 3, a child’s brain has already grown to 85 percent of its adult size.

That fact is old news among longtime educators. There’s no question that early experiences carve learning pathways in the brain. We know family engagement is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s future success. We feel it intuitively. Lots of us have seen it the classroom.

Even when household incomes are modest, or when a school is less than gold star what families do in the ordinary course of living— and how they speak with small children — is powerful. Lack of access and low incomes can make it difficult for kids to enter school ready to learn. But family engagement can bridge those gaps and smooth down those edges.

We know that. Now what?

It’s time to teach families the skills they need to prepare their young children for lifelong learning.

I call it the Gift of Literacy.

My fire to share that ‘gift’ was kindled in Red Bird — the small rural community in Oklahoma where I grew up. My parents and other “elders in the community” created nurturing and rigorous places for children to learn. Unadorned auditoriums and classrooms were transformed by the hard work and hopes of the adults who had big dreams for their children. And when we succeeded, we were rewarded.

I still have a recognition pin I earned in fourth (4th) grade for giving a ‘timely topic’ speech for 4-H Club.

How does the Gift of Literacy get shared? In little ways: Through play — and through schoolyard diplomacy that happens when play turns to tussling. At celebrations — and during the shared cleanup that happens when the party is over.

Literacy gets passed from generation to generation in small everyday moments.

But educators can’t take it for granted that the adults in a child’s life have the skills to pass on that inheritance. It only happens when caring adults decide to turn quiet, wonderful — often frustrating — moments into an opportunity.

Some dads have an instinct for counting out the cookies when he hands them to his baby girl. Some dads don’t have those instincts.

It takes a little longer for a mother to answer the question ‘How come?’—and gently correct grammar. Other moms feel too overwhelmed to create a teaching moment.

When a toddler babbles incomprehensibly, some nanas just naturally respond with questions and full sentences instead of baby talk. Other grandmothers — perhaps raised in an era when kids were seen and not heard — don’t understand the value of encouraging conversation.

When a preschooler accidently knocks over his juice, some baby sitters huff and snatch the offending drink away. Other caretakers offer a paper towel and demonstrate how even a 2-year-old can ‘help’ clean up.

Listening to children. Problem solving with them. Responding mindfully. Those are skills that can be taught. As educators, we have those skills, and we can share them.

This is a call to action.


Evelyn English wrote “Gift of Literacy,” she’s a NHSA Literacy Mentor and NAFSCE member. Next time, the “Gift of Literacy” blog explores the magic in the words: “Tell me more.”

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