“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Millions of elementary school children took those words from Dr. Seuss’ famous book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” to heart last week, with the festivities from Read Across America, an annual celebration commemorating Seuss’ birthday of March 2, 1904.
The author of more than 60 children’s books including “The Lorax,” “The Cat in the Hat,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Seuss, whose real name was Theodore Geisel, captivated readers with his stories and memorable characters. Some were mischievous and lighthearted, some were grouchy and some carried a powerful message. But many inspired a love of reading in children — something the program aims to encourage long after Seuss’ death.
“It seems like the love of reading has found its way out of schools,” said Kevin Headings, principal of West Park Elementary School. “There’s much more of a technical focus to teaching reading — more focus on testing, Smarter Balanced.”
Headings said while the technical aspects of reading are important, the other side is important, too.
“When I was in school, teachers would read aloud, making reading fun for the kids,” he said. “We don’t do enough of that anymore. Encouraging that love of reading — that’s what Read Across America is about.”
Headings said classes at West Park participated in dress-up days and reading challenges or competitions. On Friday, he said, the school conducted a read-in, where students can bring pillows and blankets and the entire school will read just for fun.
Long-term, he said, the school has followed the lead of Sunset Elementary School, and is now holding family read-ins. The first Friday of each month, families are encouraged to come in the mornings and read with their students.
Tamie Watkinds, a Title I teacher at West Park, said one of the most important things teachers can do to encourage literacy is to give children books of their own, as many don’t have them in their homes.
“If the kids meet their (reading) goals, they get to choose a book to keep,” Watkinds said. “Books seem to be a very good incentive.”
Rick Cotterell, the principal of McNary Heights Elementary School in Umatilla, said the students have special dress-up days for the entire week, and one of the highlights is a school-wide parade in which each class makes a float based on a book they like. The school also has guest readers in classes throughout the week.
“Each day there’s an emphasis on reading, and at lunch, the kids answer comprehension questions and can win prizes,” he said. “It’s so much fun for the kids.”
Cotterell said McNary Heights is below the state average in literacy rates, with more than 60 percent of the student population as English language learners. One of their goals, he said, is to align the intervention process across grade levels, so kids don’t have to adjust to a new program each year.
Headings said compared to other schools with challenging populations — high poverty, high ELL populations — West Park is above average. But compared to the entire state, Headings estimated the school is at or below the average literacy rate.
Watkinds said one of the new programs she is using this year seems to be having some success. The program, called Fast ForWord, uses repetition to help kids understand new concepts and words.
“Kids need, on average, 14 to 30-something repetitions to understand a new concept,” he said. “For kids who struggle with reading, that’s not enough. With the new program, they get hundreds or thousands of repetitions of the same sound,” she said. “We’re seeing really nice gains with kids who’ve struggled in the past.”