Group sparks kids’ imagination, literally |

Group sparks kids’ imagination, literally

“Do you know what’s in the bag?” the teacher asks, holding up a small red satchel. “A ghost!” one 3-year-old shouts. “A car that can fly!” another offers. “Treasure!” a child in the back pipes up.Strangely, all three children are correct. For what’s in the bag is books and what they hold is as limitless as the human imagination. The students don’t understand this yet. They peek inside the bags, excited yet unsure. On their own, without a translator’s help, books are semi-strange, indecipherable objects. But later, when they crawl into their parent’s lap, a world will be opened to them.Around 350 preschool students from Rifle to Aspen will receive similar bags of books this year as part of a nonprofit effort to encourage parents to read to their children. The California-based program, Raising a Reader, distributes red bags of books to children with “read to me” written on the front. The bags are exchanged weekly, so students can be exposed to around 200 children’s books over the course of the school year. Preschool education is also preliteracy, but children still gain a lot when read to, said Aspen School District preschool director Nicki Leniton.”At this age children learn the mechanics of reading,” she said. “They can’t read but they can learn the structure of books and that they are read left to right and top to bottom.”The program is aimed at impoverished students, particularly poor Latinos, and federally funded Early Head Start programs in Basalt and Rifle have signed on. The bags come with books in both Spanish and English.Aspen’s Raising a Reader coordinator, Jane Poss, said that along with its educational component, the program also encourages healthy interactions between parents and children.”People aren’t reading with their children like they used to,” Poss said. “We try to tell parents that even if they can’t read English, it’s OK. The child just likes sitting on your lap. It’s important for children to associate reading with happy family memories.”The bags also contain videos in both English and Spanish titled “How to read books with young children so they become lifelong readers.” Poss said bilingual books are a benefit to English-speaking children, too.”English-speaking families will have exposure to the Spanish language, which is now a part of our valley,” she said.The program will likely partner with valley libraries next spring, allowing students to continue filling their packs once the preschool program finishes. Poss also hopes to raise enough money to purchase a Raising a Reader van, which could deliver packets to children who aren’t enrolled in preschool programs.So far, the program seems to be a hit with parents. Carmen, mother of Aspen preschooler Patricio, said she has books in both Spanish and English for her bilingual son. “The problem,” she said, “is that we’ve read them all so many times.”Patricio, her son, is thrilled.”Mommy, mommy look!” he said holding his red sack aloft. “I’ve got a bag of treasure.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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