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ASU participates in setting world record for reading to children

September 28, 2009

On October 8, hundreds of young children will whisper and wiggle and squirm and giggle as they settle down for record-breaking reading time in Arizona homes and schools.

On that day, more than 150 ASU early childhood pre-service teachers will be reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle to young children in local classrooms and private homes.  The students in the College of Teacher Education and Leadership are participating in the “Read for the Record” annual reading campaign by Jumpstart in an effort to set a world record by reading the same book on the same day to young children worldwide.

ASU has participated every year since the coordinated effort began three years ago by Jumpstart, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting college students and community volunteers in tutoring and mentoring preschool students.

This year the Pearson Foundation is partnering with ASU to offer 1,000 free copies of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” for students, alumni, faculty, staff and community members who sign up online and pledge to read the special 40th anniversary edition with a young child on October 8. Those who participate must register online before 5 p.m., October 2 at Pledge to read and select the “ASU Event”. Pearson will mail the books to each individual.

Each year a new book is chosen and each year the record has been broken. Hundreds of thousands of people join in the effort. According to Jumpstart, last year’s book, “Corduroy” by Don Freeman, was read to young children by nearly 700,000 registered readers. Past books included “The Little Engine That Could” and “Ferdinand.”

Kara Morris, an ASU senior studying early childhood education, participated in the Read for the Record program last year, and she intends to take part again. The year before, she read “Corduroy” and other books to a group of neighborhood children in her Mesa home, leading a graphing activity using colorful gummy bears and singing a few songs. 

“I'm very pleased that a program such as ‘Read for the Record’ exists,” Morris says. “Literature is so critical to the development of any child, where they are able to make personal connections on several levels. It's so much more than any television show.

”ASU’s participation is organized by Jane Legacy, clinical associate professor, and Rebecca Stahlman, clinical assistant professor, both in the College of Teacher Education and Leadership. Legacy, who teaches educational technology, coordinates with Pearson, a textbook company that provides the books to ASU. “Every year they give out such wonderful books,” she says. “Their partnership is critical to the success of this effort.”

“I love this program because it puts the spotlight on the importance of reading aloud to the children in our lives. It is through our example and enthusiasm that they learn what it means to be literate,” says Stahlman whose area of expertise is early childhood literacy. “It is through the gift of story that we explore and learn together. It is a simple yet powerful act that every child deserves each and every day.”

The students receive the books in their early childhood classes, and are encouraged to participate with the “cost” being the commitment to read to a child or group of children in pre-kindergarten to 3rd grade on the designated day.  The students are strongly encouraged to document their experiences for their college class.

This year is the 40th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a story of a famished insect who snacks on everything in sight (even, it seems, the pages of the book!). Teachers often use the book to teach about science, nutrition and the stages of the butterfly.

When asked about the book selection this year, Morris responds, “It's perfect! It coincides with Jumpstart's preschool services, which is age-appropriate. However, Eric Carle's book is a favorite to people of all ages, including me, with his intricate collage-illustrations and patterned story line. I read that ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ has been translated into twenty languages, that’s how much people love this story!”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), children whose family members read to them become better readers and perform better in school. The Read for the Record program was started to bring awareness to the importance of reading to pre-school children, in particular to highlight the disparity that exists primarily due to economic inequality. NCES reported that in 2005, 78 percent of children from poor families were read to frequently, while 90 percent of those who were more affluent were read to frequently.

“Promoting literacy to young children is vital in early childhood education. This is a great opportunity for our students to serve as role models of literate behavior for young children and make a difference in our schools,” says Mari Koerner, dean of the College of Teacher Education and Leadership.

The day starts with official spokespeople Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira on NBC’s “Today” show featuring a host of celebrity readers, and continues with reading events at schools, libraries and community centers across the country. Sponsors for the event include American Eagle Outfitters, Americorps, Pearson, Sodexo and Wal-mart.

A special edition of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” has been printed for the occasion and is available at Wal-mart. Proceeds go to a Jumpstart program to connect adults with at-risk children in preschool classrooms nationwide. Individuals can be counted toward the record by registering to join in the campaign on the Web site: