Childhood Literacy Program Begins at AMH

Parents returning home from the hospital with their bundle of joy in tow usually arrive with an even heavier bundle of nerves. Fretting over literacy issues in their newborn is unlikely to take precedent over more immediate concerns, such as breastfeeding.

“A parent’s first need is to know how to take care of their children,” said Arlington Public Library Service Manager of Literacy Yoko Matsumoto.  “The immediate sense is not to think about, ‘I need to learn how to read to my children.”

So the Arlington Public Library is taking care of that ahead of time. Once a month beginning March 10, the library’s popular Wee Reads program, a program that prepares kids for school by teaching families life skills, expands to Arlington Memorial Hospital to target expected parents-to-be.

The idea is to equip a child’s first teacher – the parent – with tools to use for reading activities with their child. By listening to a parent read a book, such as One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, children receive reinforcement on basic sounds that form language, a strengthening of speech skills, enhancement of logical thinking, concentration and discipline, and it leads to building a stronger relationship between parent and child.

Classes will do a variety of things: teach how to respond to an infant’s interests, labeling pictures, using a variety of books, and using non-verbal cues to have “conversations.”

“Before they give birth is the best time to introduce that tot and parent to literacy activities,” Matsumoto said. “That’s when they are more eager to learn. We’ve already had a lot of success with this in the library.”

“It’s a program that opens the doors to other educational opportunities and incorporates the library into the daily lives of parents and children,” said Arlington Reads staffer Kim Tan, who teaches the Wee Reads class in the library. “The families who come to my class inspire me. I get to see parents teaching their children essential classroom skills.”

At Arlington Memorial Hospital, Wee Reads will target parents already enrolled in the hospital’s childbirth and sibling classes, said Joy Griffin, Arlington Memorial Hospital’s community benefits coordinator. She calls it “educational healthcare.”

“Literacy is a part of health care,” Griffin said. “If we can take small steps in the very beginning of a child’s life, a reading habit can be established and persist until the infant is more ready to benefit educationally from shared book reading. It’s also a great way to get dad involved.”

Wee Reads won’t be the first library-hospital partnership: twice a week for the past two years the library has conducted ESL classes for hospital employees to improve their English skills in an effort to help them better communicate with patients.

“That’s what Arlington Reads is all about,” said Matsumoto. “We want to build those connections within the family to create a stronger community.”

By Kenneth Perkins