As the school year begins, too many children are already falling behind. I am 1 of 30 bloggers helping #FindtheWords with @SavetheChildren to raise awareness of the need for early childhood education for all kids. I am participating in this social media campaign to highlight 30 words in 30 days -- to symbolize the 30 million fewer words that children from low-income homes hear by age 3.
Save the Children provides kids in need with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment, setting them up for success in school and a brighter future. Learn more about Save the Children’s work in the US and around the world: http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6153159/k.C8D5/USA.htm
Read to the end for a Giveaway!
When I was about nine years old, I fell in love with the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.
I don't know how exactly they came into my hands, but they were the perfect blend of familiarity and fantasy. A pre-WWI family with five daughters living in New York, Jewish and American, wearing beautiful dresses but also destroying them as they climbed trees and hid in Papa's rag shop.
As a Jewish American girl with two sisters, living in New Jersey, I was in love. I fantasized about my parents having a gaggle of additional children- the idea of being the second oldest took root, and I thought it would be MUCH better than simply being in the middle. The stories the family in the book told about Elijah the prophet and the obviously archaic but still fascinating way girls weren't permitted to study Hebrew, which I began to take particular joy in doing at synagogue on Saturdays, stayed with me as I stayed up all night, reading and re-reading the stories.
And then I had the most incredible discovery- there were more All-Of-A-Kind Family books.
I snuggled under the covers to read the second, All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown, and read with total obsession the story of the birth of the five sisters' new baby brother.
He was sick, and it seemed he might die. So one day, in the midst of all the worry, Papa takes the baby to the rabbi, to change his name. Papa explains that sometimes, when somebody is very sick, the only thing left to do is change their name. That way, when the angel of death comes looking for them, they'll be looking for the wrong person and pass them by.
Silly, I know. The idea that you can change your name and be so profoundly changed that your own fate can't find you. But it resonated with me.
It was around that time I had become not only an insomniac, but also depressed. As my childish depression deepened into something more profound, I kept thinking about that story. About changing your name and changing your destiny. And so when I was ten years old, I made the decision to change my name.
My grandmother mocked me. She would call me "Rachel," and I would answer, and she would point out that if I didn't want people to call me that I had to stop answering to it. So I did. From that point on, the only name I would answer to was my middle name.
I was determined to stop being Rachel. I was going to be somebody else. Somebody less frightened of being made fun of, somebody bolder and braver and more confident. To me, 'Rachel' was a shroud I'd been wearing my whole life, and had done nothing to make me happy. So I shrugged her off, and assumed the identity of my middle name, 'Lea,' who wore whatever the hell she wanted to instead of trying to fit in with the WASPy pre-teens in her girl scout troop. Claudia, from the Babysitter's Club, became my style icon. I cut off my long hair and embraced the "New Jan Brady" style 'fro that puffed up in its wake. And then my family moved.
I embraced every aspect of this change. I was a new person, with a new look, a new outlook on life, and now- a new location. I showed up for my first day of middle school with my hair puffed in a halo around my head, horn rim styled pastel glasses, a floor length gold skirt, and a blue cropped faux turtleneck t-shirt.
And while it was true that everything on the outside had changed- my appearance, my name, my location, my school... things were fundamentally the same. I was still woefully unpopular, still the butt of ceaseless jokes and the recipient of incessant bullying, and still profoundly unhappy.
But I was more confident in who I was. I was a person who had defined myself, and although my attempt to change my life by changing myself hadn't exactly worked the wanted it to, it had worked in some way. I had, mysteriously, kind of grown up a little.
I was changed by the act of changing.
Books had a profound impact on me during my childhood, but not every child is so lucky. Having books in the house helps children learn not just to read, but to appreciate and cultivate language. 65% of young children in need have no access to books, and more than two thirds of poverty level households have no books appropriate for children in the house.
By the age of three, children from low-income homes hear on average 30 million fewer words than their peers, which puts them at a disadvantage when they start school- a cognitive delay of eighteen months.
But we can change that.
Join in the #FindTheWords campaign! If you see a picture of my word, "Change," tweet it with the hashtags #FindTheWords and #Change. Help raise awareness of what Save The Children is doing to help kids reach their potential, and move out of poverty.
...if all the student in low-income countries learned basic reading skills, 171 million people could be raised out of poverty.
Can you #FindtheWords? #Change @SavetheChildren pic.twitter.com/9h8DHD5GG4
— Lea Grover (@bcmgsupermommy) August 8, 2014
You can help.
And to thank you, I'll be able to give one of you a $100 gift card, from Save The Children. All you have to do is comment on this post, telling me about when reading has changed you. Or helped you change the world for the better. (Please leave your email address in the comment, a link to somewhere I can find you via social media. Facebook, twitter, the usual.)
#FindTheWords. Be the #Change you wish to see in the world.