Read to your little children. Talk to them. Sing to them. If you do they’ll be smarter.

That advice seems like common sense in some ways, but yesterday, Hillary Clinton came to town to join a coalition of local organizations in sending this message to Oakland parents.

Reading or talking, even “Fifteen minutes a day makes a huge difference,” Clinton told a group of parents assembled at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, according to tweets.

In a campaign they call “Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing,” UCSF Benioff, Kaiser Permanente, the Bay Area Council and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation’s “Too Small to Fail” initiative will be spreading information to encourage parents to talk to their babies from the first days.

“When kids hear fewer words, they learn fewer words and the word gap becomes an achievement gap,” the Talking is Teaching coalition said in a tweet.  The word gap can influence a child all the way through high school. “Parents and caregivers can help close the word gap by talking, reading and singing to their children from birth every day.”

Doing so can be as simple as talking about what is on the bus or what they are eating for breakfast, as this public service video shows.

In Oakland, there’s apparently “a lack of awareness about the importance of talking, reading, and singing to children among low-income families,” and that is why the group chose to launch the effort here. A survey of low-income parents and grandparents in Oakland last March found that only about half read books to their children each day, and fewer than half reported telling stories to their children each day.

Those findings agree with research by Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center and Oakland’s Urban Strategies Council that fewer than half of kindergarteners in Oakland public schools are prepared to learn.

Mayor Jean Quan was with Clinton as she met parents at Children’s Hospital. “It’s really nice to have someone who might be the next president talking about early education in Oakland,” Quan said in a telephone interview. “I think she chose Oakland because we have a high percentage of low-income kids and we have a high percentage of immigrant children.”

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photo credit: Mayor Quan’s office

Quan, herself the child of immigrant parents who did not speak English, said that parents who do not speak English often don’t talk a lot to their kids in their native tongue “because they want their kids to learn English.” Actually, growing up learning two languages boosts brain development more than learning one language. Many low-income children in this city have one parent who is working long hours or two jobs and therefore may be too exhausted by the time she gets home to read to her children, Quan said.

But by talking about everyday things, and reading whatever they see: signs and cereal boxes, as well as children’s books, parents can help their children. Talking is Teaching will use materials created by Goodby Silverstein and Partners and Oaklandish to distribute this message.

The findings about early childhood education come at the same time that the Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center and Oakland’s Urban Strategies Council released an Oakland Achieves report that, among other things, found that only 40 percent of kindergarteners in Oakland start school prepared to learn.

Many factors go into their lack of preparedness, but one of them is a lack of “kindergarten academics” or pre-literacy skills such as knowing letters, shapes, colors and numbers, and an ability to express oneself.

Kaiser Permanente and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland will be giving out books, music and information about early learning to new parents who give birth at their hospitals. Meanwhile, advertisements created by Goodby Silverstein and Partners will start appearing on city billboards and Oaklandish will be distributing children’s clothing that encourages reading and singing.

About The Author

Barbara Grady is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach her at barbara@oaklandlocal.com

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