I sat reading Mercer Meyer's Just Me and My Little Sister with six-year-old Naia, and I could sense her growing curiosity with the turn of each page. Most of us are familiar with the experience. If not from the perspective of a parent, babysitter, or teacher, then we recall storytime from our own childhood memories. What ritual could better characterize the magic of youth? Whether a child is drawn to tales of medieval wizards or stories about the simple lives of everyday children -- storytime encapsulates the way books can channel the young imagination into intellectual growth.
Here in the United States, the land of opportunity, schools work to supply our youth with the tools they need to enter the adult world with confidence. Whether reading and writing in a professional capacity or independently exploring the world of literature, literacy is a companion to the pursuit of happiness in our nation.
However, given the prestige of the United States, many are surprised to hear of the rampant trends of national illiteracy. The current statistics are sobering:
● Over 20 percent of American adults read at or below a fifth grade level, and a stunning 50 percent are classified as having poor reading capabilities.
● Approximately 50 percent of our unemployed youth are functionally illiterate.
● "Approximately 1 million students drop out annually.
● International reading comprehension tests ranked the United States in 14th place -- with Shanghai, China in the lead.
While these facts do not yet negate the current stature of the United States as a world power, they certainly raise concern towards the state of affairs at home. With increasing global connectivity and the expansion of the working world, the United States workforce will need to boast a more impressive competence in literacy to maintain its foothold. Furthermore, if our nation can be expected to spread literacy to underprivileged peoples abroad, then certainly domestic literacy must first be reinvigorated. Americans must work to propel our youth once again to the forefront of the academic world.
Every day, dedicated individuals across the nation are working to restore our intellectual culture to prosperity. Institutional reform, charity initiatives and individual families are working towards this vision. From youth mentor programs to the introduction of iPads as classroom reading instruction tools, the issue of literacy is beginning to receive the attention it deserves.
Notwithstanding, the true key to ending illiteracy in our nation must lie at the root of the issue: at home. The success or failure of our school systems lies not only in the classroom, but in the individual students. We should continue to strive for excellence in instruction, but equally as important is the attitude with which each student enters the classroom.
iPads and other educational technologies are terrific innovations, but no invention could provide the widespread availability and holistic charm of a material book. The beauties of face to face storytime are manifold: the nurturing bond between parent and child; the excited glow on a child's face; the intellectual and creative confidence fostered by reinforcing reading skills at home.
What our nation requires is a grassroots initiative to spur student interest in reading at the ground level. Parents and mentors must work as tirelessly as school officials to inspire a love of reading in our students. As our youth develop and begin to take the reins of the nation, we must ensure their healthy mental development -- we must allow students to maintain their natural curiosity.
In an effort to make the spirit of storytime go viral, I'll be recording a new "Reading With Children" video series appearing on MonkeyReader.com -- follow and share to spread the spirit of reading yourself, and join the ranks of concerned citizens dedicated to ending child illiteracy in the United States and the world!
As I sensed Naia's positive intellectual response, and witnessed her delight at the discovery of a favorite book, I felt truly inspired. Hopefully, more parents across the nation can be inspired to sit down with their own children and enjoy the wonders of storytime, too.
Video viewable at http://www.monkeyreader.com/flavia.html