Local child-care providers key in building early reading skills

As experienced child-care providers, Iris Postigo and Juanyta Napoles fully recognize the value of building language skills in the young children who have come to their Foster City home care center for 14 years.

But Napoles especially said she used to feel intimidated by the performance aspect of the task -- the funny voices during reading, the repetitive songs she knew helped build important neural pathways. She didn’t feel entertaining enough, or that she had a good singing voice.

But after attending an SVCF-sponsored workshop on the value of playacting, music and interactive play for building pre-reading skills, Napoles came back “a different person,” recalled her colleague, Postigo, with a laugh. “She was using props, and puppets,” said Postigo. Both women noted how such a simple change had noticeably increased engagement of the children, who loved the interaction, and wanted to imitate their teachers.


That’s why the two women were back again in April for another training at SVCF’s San Mateo office, to pick up even more new ideas to be more effective in their practice of reading to children. The training was part of SVCF’s longtime partnership with the national Raising A Reader (RAR) program -- the acclaimed program designed to help families of children ages 0-8 develop, practice and keep up the home-based reading which studies show lead to lifelong academic advantage.

In 1999, SVCF’s San Mateo office became one of Raising A Reader’s 30+ affiliates, offering books, specialized annual training, and support to more than 175 early childhood education providers who serve more than 6,000 children and their families in the area.

The logic, says Pat Sasso, early learning officer at SVCF, is to support caregivers who often spend long hours with children, equipping them with a repository of ideas and tools to provide the families they serve with ways to share reading with their children, and to enable the caregivers to be educators to the families about the importance of early language and literacy development.

The Raising A Reader work of  SVCF's Center for Early Learning also has benefited from the past three years from a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which enabled caregivers of infants and toddlers (ages 0-3) from 37 different schools or home daycare centers or preschools to receive specialized early language and literacy training.  “Birth to three is the most crucial time” for optimal brain development and habits for learning, said Sasso.

Like all Raising A Reader participants, the 37 caregivers under the Packard Foundation grant were equipped with the program’s signature  red bags and enough award-winning books for each student to have a rotating selection to borrow each week. The participants said the value of the program was most evident with their non-English-speaking or very young families, who were often too busy to focus on keeping up a reading regimen at home.

By having a steady supply of  books at the ready, including Spanish-language books, reading becomes a part of the family’s  home life, their creative play and their artistic expression in class and out. “Children just have that light on their face when they bring their books home,” said Alicia Lopez, of Millbrae’s A Place to Learn day care. “You can take so many things from one book.”

By most accounts, the train-the-caregivers approach has been highly effective.  

At the most recent Packard-funded workshop in San Mateo -- after a lively and informative session about the value of music to activate pre-verbal skills in children from Sandra Aran from Music Together -- the attendees shared pointers for maximizing the Raising a Reader program with families for whom reading might not be a regular practice:

  • Keep a journal at the sign-in table updating parents on the books children read in class, to stimulate discussion on the way home.
  • Plan field trips to the library as a group, because “some families find going to the library can be a little scary,” said caregiver Arrabella Wade.
  • Have library-card applications in the classroom.
  • Invite each child to discuss their favorite RAR book in circle time.
  • Build artistic activities around the books the children are reading each week.


“Parent-child book sharing from birth is a vital foundation to building early language and literacy skills,” said Sasso. “I’m always looking for ways to support early-childhood educators both in their knowledge and understanding, and in finding ways to engage families more deeply.”  

Raising A Reader is also a key component of The Big Lift Campaign, working to ensure that by 2020, 80 percent of 3rd graders are reading proficiently in San Mateo County.