“Up until third grade, you’re learning to read. After third grade, you’re reading to learn.”

I heard this statement for the first time last week, from the Executive Director of an organization that works with the entire family to help children succeed in life and fulfill their God-given purpose.

I was at the facility to discuss a program that several members of my Toastmasters Club did for the staff a few years ago, and that we’ve been asked to do again. It was during a tour of the facility after our meeting that the Director made the comment about third grade being a milestone of academic development.

As a writer and an avid reader, I was happy to hear about the emphasis placed on reading, especially since I more often hear and read about things such as our language being mangled by abbreviated spelling, thanks to text messaging. Or cursive writing not being taught in schools anymore, and students being as unable to read something handwritten in cursive as they would be if it were written in a foreign language. Or people who have not owned or opened a book since their college – or high school – graduation.

The day after this meeting, I saw another inspiring example of reading being celebrated by students – from second and fifth graders to high school seniors all working together. It was a project by Georgia Writers Museum’s Junior Board, in which the high schoolers and their fifth-grade partners brought a children’s book to life, through costumed characters, posters, and presentations to several audiences of second-graders. The event included an author with a rousing music and percussion program, and a reading by a multi-talented eighth-grade author and artist. Every second-grader went home with a gift of a signed copy of one of the featured books. The event was so entertaining and enjoyable that I wanted to sign up for second grade and go through school all over again. And I’m sure it instilled – or intensified – a love of reading in the students who took part in the program.

One of the reasons this is so important – and why I was so excited about these programs – can be summed up in a quote by English poet Rick Holland, who said, “The world belongs to those who read.” 19th-century journalist Margaret Fuller, who was the first American female war correspondent, was even more specific about the importance of reading: “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”

But my favorite quote about reading comes from the philosopher Erasmus, who expressed his priorities in life in no uncertain terms: “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

March 14, 2023
©Betty Liedtke, 2023

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