Giving the Gift of Reading

By Kelly Gustafson, Coordinator of Elementary Education, Federal Programs and Instruction; Greensburg Salem School District

Reflecting on my 18 years as an elementary school administrator, I feel privileged to have been mentored by several teachers who taught me the importance of reading—I’ll call them my “Reading Experts.”

As a former special education teacher and elementary principal, and now coordinator of elementary education, I didn’t realize my love for reading was truly a gift given to me as a child. It wasn’t in the form of a hardcover book; rather, it was a soft voice reading the text from a page while pointing to the colors of an image while I sat on her lap.

There is power in reading aloud to a child. It was a ritual each night in our home growing up and something I still remember from my early education.

I chose a career in education when I discovered putting the right book in every child’s hands sparked joy in my heart. But we don’t have to be educators to provide young students with reading opportunities.

Researchers in the field of reading education tell us that children who have access to over 500 books during childhood are more likely to graduate high school. We can close reading achievement gaps by gifting a love of reading to every child in our communities.

Access the books.

First things first: get yourself and your family library cards. Physically putting books into your own hands and the hands of children doesn’t take much. Connect yourself and others to reading programs and services at a school or public library in your community. And always remember to thank your librarian.

Use your voice.

Be a “Reading Expert” for children in your daily life. Make time to read to yourself and to others. Talk about reading. Teachers often welcome volunteer readers. Give it a try and rediscover your childhood with an old favorite or connect with a new picture book and highlight its beauty.

Share the gift.

Help connect children with engaging books—it’s the first step to a successful literacy life. The gift of reading should be celebrated by every child in our communities. United Way’s Raising Readers program is a six-week parent book club that encourages parents and caregivers to read to their child daily. Consider getting involved or finding a way to implement reading into your family’s daily schedule.

I will never be able to express the depth of my gratitude to the “Reading Experts” in my life who helped develop my love of reading, but I will make sure to honor them by encouraging young people to read any way I can. Anyone can be a “Reading Expert” and encourage students to read – the playground director who reads at lunchtime, the librarian who provides unique reading spaces and new hardcover books, the third grade teacher who surprises her students with beanbag chairs and chapter books, and the PTA ladies who distribute boxes of gently used books to every kid in the school.

Become someone’s Reading Expert; it truly is a gift.