BOZEMAN, Mont. – Conclusive research has concluded that developing early learning habits help children develop long-term success in school and life.
For every $1 invested in a child’s education, Hopa Mountain’s StoryMakers Program said $8 to $17 will be made in long term public return in “increased earnings and tax revenue, and less public money required for remedial education, health problems and criminal behavior.”
StoryMakers is a nonprofit organization that supports early home learning environments by means that include giving away some 14,000 books bi-annually in the spring and fall to children ages five and under throughout 20 rural counties and Indian reservation communities throughout Montana.
Linda Clark, who helped form the StoryMakers Program in 2004, said that in the last 10 to 15 years there’s been an explosion of research about the early home environment of children and what is conducive to their success in life.
“There’s more to just reading the book, it’s really about sharing the book.”
“We are realizing that in Montana there are a lot of very rural communities that geographically and financially it’s hard for families to have top notch early learning tools like quality wordbooks. So StoryMakers came about in this big rural state as an attempt to offer parents really good early learning material – in particular books.”
Clark explained that in some places in Montana they would have to travel more than 100 miles just to find a store that sold children’s books. The StoryMakers didn’t think that it was fair that only select children who were financially stable and non-rural would be able to access tools to begin their schooling at the best private school there is – at home with their parents.
Philomayne Tucker, a retired Head Start teacher who now volunteers her time as a teacher coach, helps disperse the StoryMakers’ books throughout the Montana High-Line on the Fort Belknap Reservation.
She said the feedback has been positive, and children and parents are grateful to get the age appropriate and durable hardback books when they tell her about their favorites.
“The age of a child doesn’t matter if you read to them. The younger the better, because I’ve always read to my children and I think it made a difference when they went to school,” Tucker said.
Hopa Mountain Executive Director Dr. Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer said that a lot of the ties of Native American family learning were lost historically through the boarding school era.
“Part of this movement of early learning at home – beyond the books – is just to strengthen those family skills and competencies that we know exists between parents and their goals for their children.
“With the research we now have about early learning, it’s absolutely critical that all children have the best start in life. We often ask, ‘why are children dropping out at the rates they do at school?’ But really, so much of a child’s development is formed in the early periods of the home. These factors directly affect their ability to learn.”
Sachatello-Sawyer said parents are children’s first teachers, and the early learning environment they create in their home is vital for kids’ success in school and in life. She is grateful for the generous donations Hopa Mountain has received so they can continue their work for generations to come.
“The more we can encourage this and make sure that all children have access to high quality books and rich home learning environments, the better we are able to ensure that all children are able to have an opportunity to succeed in school.”
Sachatello-Sawyer also hopes to get more culturally relevant books for the program that tie into early Native learning.
Linda Bone helps distribute StoryMakers Program books throughout the Flathead Reservation in western Montana. She said there are plenty of ways parents could become better involved with their children aside from reading the age-appropriate text.
Bone explained how one bookmark given out with the program offered ideas on how parents and children could enjoy the books further, including different ways to count if it was a counting book, how they could discuss the illustrations, or how they could talk about the vocabulary in the books.
“There’s more to just reading than the book, it’s really about sharing the book.”
Bone said being part of the euphoric local atmospheres where books were being distributed was encouraging. She said the books also help bridge gaps and build language skills between children and parents.
“I just think that anytime you get kids so excited about owning a book so much more than a toy, it’s amazing.”
Visit the Hopa Mountain Web site for more information.