By James Nold Jr. from August 2014 Issue
Credit: Campbellsville University Communications and Public Relations
Campbellsville University students help teach young children to read through annual Jumpstart program
The room was transformed into a farm set with bales of hay, farm toys, and a large barn-door cut-out, with college students wearing various versions of rural wear—Western shirts, straw cowboy hats, overalls—so that students and preschool children could celebrate the friendship between a tractor and a young calf.
Campbellsville University early childhood education students taking the children's literature class were participating in Jumpstart's Read for the Record, an annual campaign that promotes literacy to very young children through a shared reading experience. Jumpstart, a national program that celebrated 20 years in 2013, leverages the power of community volunteers, relying heavily on college students.
During Jumpstart's annual event, not only did they read the book for 31 children from the community who were visiting the campus, Campbellsville assistant professor Ellen Hamilton-Ford and six of her college students read the book to 107 children in public and private schools and childcare centers in four counties. Each classroom received a copy of the book.
The book was Otis by Loren Long, a Kentucky native who grew up in Lexington (and the illustrator of the re-illustrated edition of The Little Engine that Could). The title character is a hardworking tractor who proves his worth—and his steadfastness—when he rescues (spoiler alert) a calf that has gotten mired in a farm pond.
Campbellsville, recognized as a Campaign Reading Partner on Jumpstart's Web site, has been participating in Read for the Record since 2009 (that year the book was Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar). In addition to the event described above, which took place in the School of Education's Beulah Campbell Room, Campbellsville's college students went into several local preschool classrooms and public libraries to read Otis.
Dottie Davis, a Campbellsville assistant professor of education and a member of Taylor County Rural Electric Co-op, who teaches the children's literature course, says that the event serves important functions for both the preschoolers who are read to and the college students doing the reading.
The program builds on extensive research showing that language development has a significant correlation to the number of words a young child hears and is one of the key predictors of future literacy.
Young children "just burst" with vocabulary acquisition, Davis says. "Even as adults, we just don't quite learn words in the way that young children do."
And by putting so much into the event, the children's literature class made it seem as if, in the words of Ellen Hamilton-Ford, assistant professor of education at Campbellsville University and a member of Inter-County Energy Cooperative, that when the children entered the Campbell Room, they felt like "they've walked into the book."
She says such "magical" experiences with books lay the groundwork for emergent readers, that when they begin to read books on their own, "they already have this desire of, 'Ooh, I want to know what the words say, because I know it's going to tell me something wonderful.'"
And she likes that the program gives books to children: "I fully believe in the library, but there's also something about having the book in your own home to hold and love and understand how to take care of." (Between the on-campus event and the outside readings, Campbellsville University gave away 80 books that day.)
The preschoolers also did an art project (a tissue-paper reproduction of the book cover that now hangs in the School of Education), had a snack of animal crackers, and met such celebrities as Campbellsville University's tiger mascot and the cow from the campus Chik-Fil-A (who reportedly unintentionally terrified some of the young children, despite bringing bookmarks and ice cream).
While the children had an experience with literacy, Davis says that the event gave her students significant practice in reading aloud to young children—one of those skills that seems self-evident enough but actually, as Davis says, is "a little bit of an art."
Furthermore, the presence of parents gave them an audience. The students had to engage the preschoolers with the book "in a thinking kind of way," Davis says, drawing them out about the themes, the characters, and their opinions of the book.
Hamilton-Ford says that the events gave her early childhood education college students a chance to see, in real-life situations, the signs of, and techniques for creating, reader engagement that they'd studied in class.
Hailey Gregory, a 21-year-old rising senior and whose family are Taylor County RECC members, says she started by flipping through the book and asked the children to make inferences (not using that word) about what the story was about.
"If you activate their thoughts, get their thought process focused on an idea or topic, then they're going to be more engaged when it's time to read," she says.
And she used the fact that she was reading the book sitting next to her friend Annie Schakat as another way for the children to connect with the book. "I told them, 'This is my best friend, who I get to read this story with, and this story is about friendship, too. Do you have a best friend?'
"You want your children to make those connections to real life," says Gregory.
Read for the Record
Learn more about Jumpstart and their 2013 world record, where nearly 2.5 million children were read to, and find out which book will be read on October 21, 2014, click Read for the Record.