March is Reading Month

Model and Celebrate the Joys of Reading

The month of March is known for the advent of Spring and Spring Break; Division I Men’s Basketball Tournaments, themed “March Madness”; Women’s History Month and (drumroll please…) reading. As educators, parents and those wishing to benefit from the merits of lifelong learning, we should promote universal literacy as a way to spread the love, joys and wonder of reading. Because you are reading this blog post, it’s safe to assume that you are a willing convert to the many benefits of being an avid reader. So attempting to convince an active blog reader of the need to celebrate this glorious pastime, would be like preaching to the choir. While clearly you already enjoy the intellectual stimulation of an informative article, well written thought piece or a good book – sadly, we must acknowledge that literacy is an elusive concept to many. It should be affirming to know that the literacy rate increases worldwide with each new generation however, according to the National Institute for Literacy (2017), more than 200,000 adults (or 47% of city of Detroit residents) are still functionally illiterate. Given these heartbreaking statistics, it is more than timely that a celebration of reading be a feasible reality to predominate all of the events traditionally associated with the month of March. Let’s each vow to do our unique part to positively influence the dynamic of #WorldLiteracy by infusing the love of reading (and spirited mass communication in general), into others’ lives by adopting just a few habits, which we can implement this month and incorporate throughout the year.

Visit your local library – Libraries are an essential and universally accessible “gem” for any literate society, but because we far too often take our own literacy for granted – we fail to visit, support and appropriately utilize this convenient treasure trove as a readily accessible resource. Google has become the preferred go-to-source for all information and as a result, we often risk falling prey to mis-information or subjective, sponsored content without valuing research as worthy of our serious investment. As a visible indictment upon our disregard for the sacred value of literacy, our libraries are now grossly underfunded, sorely underutilized and otherwise at risk of permanent closure. Increasingly, because of the abject laziness which has become synonymous with this technological age, libraries are deemed relics of the past or unnecessary luxuries while scores of people suffer from a lack of knowledge. Admittedly, literacy rates fluctuate from country to country and even in areas renowned for their sound educational systems, those who live in the most impoverished conditions, still suffer higher rates of illiteracy. The best way to remedy this aberration is to carve out your own semblance of a #SpringBreak to sponsor local library field trips (for educators and families) or use the month of March to enjoy a solo venture to the library in order to renew your membership and check out a book. Each of us has an obligation to ensure that literacy is not only our unique inheritance, but also our ‘gift’ to those we love and others less fortunate.

Volunteer to read – What if we borrowed from the #MarchMadness frenzy traditionally reserved for college basketball to apply just a portion of that infectious energy to a worthy, volunteer effort? Schools, senior homes and even church Sunday School or Vacation Bible School classes would greatly benefit from volunteers of all ages and persuasions simply volunteering to read aloud. Reading books aloud is a vital part of literary instruction in virtually every nursery, daycare and primary school atmosphere because this contributes to vocabulary and comprehension skill enhancement in early childhood development. From an academic standpoint, there should never be an assumption that our students were blessed with a level-playing field of having come from literate households that modeled an exemplary regard for reading and writing. Thus, teachers of students from kindergarten to grade 3 (and beyond), must seamlessly fuse read-aloud opportunities on each day of instruction in order to appropriately model the think-aloud, questioning and demonstrate the contextual nuances of vocabulary development which accompany the art of reading for understanding. At the alternate end of the spectrum, reading to elders (in either your family or in medical/residential facilities), reminds them of the joys of a medium they may have once relished, but which age and illness may limit or altogether prohibit. As a teacher, I frequently walked my homeroom class to the local library for research, sponsored a fast food lunch and then the class would spend the rest of the afternoon inspired by the new knowledge we had gained. As a school district administrator, I proposed, budgeted and rarely, if ever missed an opportunity to accompany our students and teachers to a local nursing home so that children (of all ages) could partake in the sheer joys of showing off their own read-aloud, comprehension and public speaking abilities while simultaneously driving home the benefit of giving back c/o a viable, inter-generational platform.

Purchase or donate lightly used books as gifts – For many of us, gift-giving often ‘breaks the bank’ or encourages spending to excess for material things which are only temporal and/or symbolize shallow expressions of love in the final analysis. The gift of a book is meaningful and priceless . . . because the value has lasting implications far beyond the intended holiday or occasion. Reading is a much more enriching and beneficial activity than so many other indulgences in life. The novel concept of books as a perfect gift also refers to giving away used books as well, because their value does not depreciate over time. A novel you (or your children), once enjoyed but have finally grown out of may now be treasured by the next generation and your charitable gift is key. My daughter was at first hesitant to part with her used children’s books when I introduced the concept of passing them down to her younger cousins many years ago, (lol). As an only child she was always somewhat possessive and it never occurred to her that her books could be appreciated by others. It helped that each round of giveaway’s meant a shopping trip to replenish her library – but more importantly, it was pivotal for her to learn that knowledge is not for our individual consumption, on order to be blessed in life, we must willingly share and give the gift of knowledge. In my own life, I learned the joy of giving gifts of the heart because of our family’s annual observance of Kwanzaa. An African-American holiday founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, #Kwanzaa literally means first fruits and offers a truly meaningful and rich celebration of the new year and of our African heritage than that which is traditionally associated with the extreme commercialization of Christmas. In our home, as in the homes of many peers, we celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa and rather than merely enjoying the festive joy of one holiday, we observe and celebrate each of the seven days of Kwanzaa immediately following Christmas, from the 26th of December – January 1st, thus reaping the best of all spiritual, cultural and meaningful gift-giving connotations imaginable. As children during Kwanzaa time, we were bound by giving gifts of the heart including: doing one another’s chores, offering unsolicited compliments or making handmade, keepsakes. Of the few Kwanzaa gifts (zawadi), which could be purchased, were books because of their vastly tangible return on such a nominal, yet worthy investment. Perhaps we could all begin to donate or purchase the gift of books among our family and friends thereby establishing a meaningful tradition.

Collectively, we can commemorate #MarchIsReadingMonth by expanding literacy beyond the comfort of our own familiar routines to introducing the joys and wonder of reading to those around us. There is little else which has the capacity to ignite the light of our imagination and spark inner creativity than reading, so literacy is a gift we must give away through modeling best practices ourselves. The small, yet meaningful acts of: visiting a local library, reading aloud to others and buying or donating books as gifts are priceless.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” –Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

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Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

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