Children in School District 65’s preschool program sing in English and in Spanish at the Smart Start kickoff last month. RoundTable photo

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The audience of some 90 persons listened quietly, learning about the keys of literacy and how they can incorporate reading, writing and telling stories into their young children’s lives. Most of their children will start kindergarten in the fall, and School District 65’s Smart Start program is designed to draw these families into the school community as much as possible.

This cohort of parents of incoming kindergartners, the third at School District 65, listened as librarians Martha Meyer, Laura Antolin and Rick Kinnebrew demonstrated the keys to developing literacy – talking, reading, singing and writing, as examples – and emphasized the importance of reading to their children.

Interactive reading is important, said Ms. Antolin. “Ask questions as you read … and feel free to say things that aren’t on the page,” she said. “What do you see?” “What do you think will happen next?” are good questions to promote “dialogue reading,” she added.

“Play is important,” said Ms. Meyer. “I used to feel that kids [should] play by themselves, and then I would do the work, such as reading. [But] the most important thing to do is play with kids. You can incorporate reading activities into play.”

Writing is another key to literacy, the librarians said. Once a child knows the name, shape and sound of a letter, writing comes next.

“Encourage your child to write as you are writing – even if it’s a list,” said Ms. Meyer.

Singing is not an interlude but an important part of learning, Mr. Kinnebrew said. As if to demonstrate, he led children in District 65’s preschool programs in singing a song that took the children alphabetically through the vowels in English: from “I like to eat apples and bananas” to “U luke to uut upples and bununus” and then through a similar version in Spanish.

To keep the momentum going, parents will be invited to an event in the fall at their child’s elementary school, said Ellen Fogelberg, assistant superintendent at School District 65. At that meeting, parents will learn about the District’s assessments of their children and how they as parents can help foster their children’s reading. During the year, the parents will be invited to two other meetings planned to be most convenient for the parents, she said.

While there have been some minor changes to the program so far, Ms. Fogelberg said the plan is to wait until the children of the first cohort of parents are in the third grade before making sweeping changes. “Our feeling is that we need to go the long haul before making changes,” she said. She said the District keeps parental feedback and data on the children’s scores. District 65 Superintendent Dr. Hardy Murphy said, “There’s no program we’re more proud of. These parents can see that parents are part of the school.”

Ms. Fogelberg said, “Everybody wants it to work.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...