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READING SOLUTION

Amid challenging times, reading provides an outlet

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Zoey, 5, had her focused on the table as she clung shyly to her mother. Her two-year old sister kept pointing to a story about bears. Both were soon clutching new books. “Can we really keep them?”

Nearby, Carlos chose a Dr. Seuss book and a Spanish-speaking family was delighted to find bilingual titles from which to choose. On this particular day, Children’s Reading Alliance (CRA) provided books at a kindergarten registration event sponsored by Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) and the National Education Association. 

Getting books to children this summer requires finding new partners to reach the children who need them. Boys and Girls Club and Families and Youth Inc. are distributing books at summer lunch sites. Kids Can and Thriving Kids programs are taking books to Sunland Park, Anthony, Chaparral and Hatch. We are still seeking more partners.

To continue to serve our most vulnerable families, Children’s Reading Alliance is adjusting to changing reality. This fall, we will offer parents two choices for First Teacher/Primer Maestro (FT/PM) classes. In areas where families have access to technology, our classes will be offered through interactive video classes.

For families without Internet service, CRA will offer small classes in large rooms. We already have commitments from five community schools and New Mexico pre-k programs to offer FT/PM parent classes, and LCPS will provide computers and internet access. Registration is starting for a pilot project at Raices Del Saber Community School.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, the strain on already stressed families intensifies and will continue to wreak havoc in the uncertain economic times to come. Family reading at home offers unique safety valves for children and adults.

Reading relieves stress. Neuroscience researchers at both Emory University and University of Sussex County found that just six minutes of reading lowers heart rate and muscle tension.  A bedtime reading routine helps the body wind down which improves sleep.

There is evidence that dads who read to their children receive added benefits of greater skill acquisition, confidence, self-esteem, better father-child relationships and increased engagement in learning, according to Rob Kemp, author of “The New Dad’s Survival Guide.”

Furthermore, reading fiction tricks the mind into thinking we are part of the story and builds capacity for empathy for others. At a neurological level, the empathy we feel for the characters in a story wires our brains to have the same sensitivity toward real people.

According to Harvard mindfulness researcher Ellen Langer, “Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. Resilience and well-being can be learned.”

Books provide momentary escape from stress, can transport us to other worlds and provide our imaginations with alternative ways of coping.

Along with challenging times come new opportunities. Creating safe learning space in homes must become a priority. At CRA we are developing a three-year plan to make sure that the current interruptions to school do not permanently interfere with the literacy gains our children need for success. If you have ideas for book distribution sites or would like to help in another way, please email Jennifer Alvarado (jalvarado@childrensreadingalliance.org) or me (rmeasure@gmail.com). Your financial support is always appreciated and put to good use.

Rorie Measure is president of Children's Reading Alliance, a grassroots initiative to encourage family literacy throughout Doña Ana County. She is a reader, writer, teacher, reading specialist and literacy trainer.