This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
An early start on learning means everything when it comes to a child’s future. Yet too many children living in poverty in America and around the world don’t have access to a quality early education. In fact, children from low-income homes hear an average of 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their peers from well-off families, putting them at a disadvantage before they even start school. These are children like Serenity from Nebraska, who at 3 years old wasn’t able to speak in sentences that consisted of more than two words. One of three siblings, Serenity lives in a remote community in a rural part of the state, where families struggle to make ends meet. Often, when parents have to worry about putting food on the table, books and reading take a back seat.
What’s more, quality early childhood education is not an option in many poverty-stricken communities. As a result, by the time she is 4 years old, Serenity was at risk of being 18 months behind other 4-year-olds who are lucky enough to be born with more opportunities. But like most parents, Serenity’s mom and dad want the best for their kids and they see education as the only way out of poverty. “We know we are in the situation we are in financially because we did not take education seriously when we were younger,” Serenity’s mother, Diane, told Save the Children. “We don’t want our children to have to live through the constant struggles that we are living.” That’s why her parents enrolled Serenity in Save the Children’s early childhood education program, which consists of weekly home visits by a program coordinator who brings a bagful of books for the kids. The program encourages parents to continuously interact with their children through stimulating conversation and daily reading.
After only three months, Serenity found her words — and scored impressively high on her development assessment test. Not only that, but her parents also discovered her hidden talent for singing! She can sing “The Wheels on the Bus” tune without missing a beat — or a word. “I know her language skills improved because of the books Save the Children gave us each week,” said Diane, amazed at her child’s transformation. “She is so excited to have me read to her and then she has to tell me a story too.” Together we can help kids like Serenity find their words. And what better day to start than today, International Literacy Day?
Teaming up with our artist ambassador Jennifer Garner, we launched our 30-day #FindtheWords campaign last month to bring attention to this early learning gap affecting millions of children. Today, to mark the culmination of the campaign, other celebrities will join us in a day-long virtual word-a-thon by sharing their favorite word with their social media networks and encouraging their fans to do the same. Our goal is to start a conversation and spread the word far and wide. Leading up to the big day, 30 of the top influencers in the blogosphere have been riling up their audiences and garnering support through Save the Children’s 30 Days/30 Words blogger challenge. To raise awareness, each blogger has written a post highlighting a specific, meaningful word. The 30 posts in 30 days symbolize the 30 million words too many kids miss out on. You can read some of their inspiring posts here.
But you don’t have to be a celebrity or a blogger to get involved. Each and every one of us can make a difference in the lives of all those children who continue to fall behind and are at risk of never catching up. We all have a favorite word, so post yours and tag it #FindtheWords. Thanks to social media, everyone can join our campaign and give voice to the 250 million school-age kids around the world who are unable to read, write or count.
Save the Children provides kids from poverty-stricken communities in the United States and around the world with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment, setting them up for success in school and a brighter future. Our early learning programs receive support from a variety of corporate funders, including Johnson & Johnson.