Talk, Read, Play, the five-year-old campaign to get parents to talk more with their young children, will come to Johnson County with a monthlong book drive at several branches of the county library.
The libraries will accept books appropriate for kids up to age 5 at designated book drops through the month of April. The books will then be distributed to early childhood centers across the county as a way of improving vocabulary and school readiness. The branches with the special drops are Blue Valley, Central Resource, Corinth and Lackman.
County and community organization officials announced the program Monday at Johnson County Community College’s Hiersteiner Child Development Center.
The informational campaign was developed by civic organizations concerned that many children — especially those in poverty — enter school knowing fewer words than their affluent neighbors, said Dean Olson, president of the Family Conservancy, which has led the campaign.
Olson said research shows children from poorer families will have heard 30 million fewer words by age 4 than those more well off, leaving them knowing 50 percent fewer words. That vocabulary difference puts them behind in school readiness and may even translate into higher high school drop-out rates, because kids not reading at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out, he said.
The gist of Talk, Read, Play is promotional, aimed at getting the message out to parents to read to and have conversations with their young children.
“Our vision is that every parent, grandparent and caregiver in this county hears the message every year so they will be able to know and understand what to do,” Olson said. Officials want parents to commit to having more conversations and reading more with their children to help them learn more words and be ready for school.
Talk, Read, Play began as a promotional campaign in 2011 and more than 71,000 fliers have been distributed throughout the city since then. In 2014, a more formal effort was launched to train staff at child care centers to teach parents and caregivers how to use vocabulary-building strategies, said Jocelyn Mourning, spokeswoman for Family Conservancy. The conservancy will complete training with four community child care centers by the end of this year, impacting 400 children, she said.
The effort is especially important as the poverty rate rises in the county, said Karen Wulfkuhle, executive director of United Community Services. The county’s poverty rate has almost doubled since 2000, she said, with the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data estimating that 6.5 percent of county residents are below the federal poverty line.
“That translates into 5,000 children birth through age 5, enough to fill 250 elementary school classrooms,” she said. “This (program) can go a long way not only to reducing poverty but creating opportunities for those Johnson County children.”
United Community Services began promoting Talk, Read, Play last summer. The county will be involved through its libraries and through health department staff to spread the message. There is no financial commitment for the county.
At the kickoff meeting, County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert and County Librarian Sean Casserley both spoke to the importance of reading, saying they had struggled with reading in early grades.
Casserley advised parents to look for printed words everywhere, rhyme and “talk, talk, talk” when interacting with their children.
“Reading creates empathy,” he said. “It’s a chance to see through the eyes of others and their experience.”
Talk, Read, Play is one of several programs in the Kansas City area aimed at helping children in their first five years. Last year, Kansas City was one of seven cities chosen by the National League of Cities to come up with the best strategies for improving the lives of young children.
Roxie Hammill: firstname.lastname@example.org