Reading, says Michelle Huntress, reading strategist at the elementary school, is essential in today's world; learning to read and then learning to enjoy reading will benefit these young people as they grow.
At Family Fun Night, held Tuesday at the elementary school, there were plenty of encouragement. The Hy-Noon Kiwanis members gave special books to families, Mary Twentyman of Estherville brought 500 books to allow each child in attendance the opportunity to select his or her own book and Julia Cook, author of 38 books and former school counselor, shared messages with the families.
Literacy, she added, also enhances a person's ability to communicate and share ideas with one another.
"One individual cannot be an expert in every facet of life, but if someone learns ways to prevent heart disease, his or her literacy skills allows him to share his learning with others. We can all benefit from each others' knowledge and skills - that is what it means to be a community of learners."
There is a great body of research, Huntress continued, that indicates that "children who read outside of school outperform peers who never read outside of school. We want our children to have many choices in life, and leaving the school walls as a literate citizen opens important doors later in life."
Events like the Family Fun Night stress to the parents the importance of literacy and the important role they play in their child's learning.
"There are many choices of ways to spend time in today's world, and sometimes we all need a little reminder that our children need to practice their reading skills at home in order to become proficient in decoding and learning what words mean," Huntress added. "I feel that our elementary teachers and staff do an outstanding job of providing skill and concept instruction, but just as any skill develops, practice makes perfect."
Mary Twentyman, a retired educator, has a passion for reading and a passion to see that kids have the opportunity to own their own books.
She collects new and gently-used children's books for distribution to children.
The books have been distributed at elementary schools, a food bank, to individual children and an "Indian Mission" congregation. She and her husband are snow birds and so in the winter months, she shares her books with children in arizona as well.
She calls her "mission work" M.O.B. - My Own Books.
"Providing books to children is a simple, effective and inexpensive way to promote language and literacy growth," she said. "Owning books is a critical feature of every child's intellectual development. Children with books at home are eight times more likely to list reading as one of their favorite activities."
The project is something, she says, that is just as rewarding to her as it is to the kids who receive the books.
"The smile on their faces when they pick their own book, is worth the effort. There is nothing I would rather be doing in my retirement," she said.
Go to her website - http://my-own-books.webs.com/ - to learn more about her project and how you can help.
Author Julia Cook of Fremont, Neb., made her second appearance in Storm Lake, sharing important messages through her words on such topics as bullying, avoiding strangers, tattling, getting through grief and divorce, managing anger, taking care of your teeth, making friends, dealing with cliques. (See her entire list at Julia Cook online) . She has a Master's degree in elementary school counseling. While serving as a guidance counselor, she often used children's books to enhance her classroom lessons.
The goal behind Julia's books is to actively involve young people into her fun and creative stories and teach them to become "better."
It is amazing, how kids can be reeled in and her written words can help many situations.
"In order to teach a child, you must enter their view of the world," she said. "Think like a 40 year old but write like an 8 year old! My goal is to always be proactive rather than reactive."
Cook travels to many schools during the school year and with her she brings her two service dogs, Jake and Angus. Jake is a 4- pound chihuahua, and Angus is a 4-pound wiener dog, but though they may be tiny both dogs are doing a mighty big job.
Jake and Angus are both fully trained service dogs, who have have accompanied Julia Cook to hundreds of school presentations all over the United States helping teach kids ways to stay safe from strangers. Their appearance goes well with her book, "Smarter than Scoopers."
Huntress has the last word on reading, " You are never to old to become more literate. Read what interests you - sports magazines, Twitter posts, information books about things you like (gardening, animals, race cars, politics....). The more you read, the more new words you will learn to use when you speak and write. As Dr. Suess says, 'Oh, the places you can go.' Read to succeed!"