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The economic and civic future of the United States rests in the hands of third graders.

Or, to be more precise, in the hands of those who can give our kids the experiences and education they need to be able to read proficiently by the time they leave third grade. And libraries and museums play an important role in helping children, parents, and educators achieve this goal.

That’s the conclusion of “Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners”—a report issued by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR).

The GLR Campaign focuses on the most important predictor of school success and high school graduation: grade-level reading by the end of third grade. The mission of the campaign, a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, states, and communities, is to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship.

“We know that we won’t close achievement gaps, reduce dropout rates, or compete in the 21st-century economy until more of our children are reading proficiently by the end of third grade,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the GLR Campaign, and a senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  “But right now, more than 80 percent of students from low-income families don’t achieve that critical milestone. Libraries and museums are playing a vital role in reaching families and children with support that can help turn around this deeply troubling trend.”

To support that goal, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) issued $2.5 million in grants last year to institutions seeking to improve early literacy.  IMLS committed another $2.5 million for 2013 and urges those involved in early childhood development to take advantage of existing library and museum resources for hands-on learning.

“A visit to a museum or library can result in a life-changing experiential learning experience,” said Mel Drumm, director of the Ann Arbor (MI) Hands-On Museum, which has more than 250,000 visitors each year, and provides “hands-on, minds-on experiences” for children and families onsite as well as through outreach programs delivered to students locally, regionally, and globally.

“Our informal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-based learning has now reached over 4.5 million people,” Drumm continued.  “In Ann Arbor, our record increases in attendance and membership underscore how museums serve their communities as vital learning environments for developing 21st-century skills.”

The GLR campaign concurs. Its report lists 10 key ways that museums and libraries support young children, including:

-- Increasing high-quality early learning experiences
-- Engaging and supporting families as their child’s first teacher
-- Supporting development of deeper learning skills through STEM-based experiences

The importance of libraries and museums in developing a love of lifelong learning is nicely captured in these words from Gladys M. Hunt, an American author:“A young child, a fresh uncluttered mind, a world before him—to what treasures will you lead him?”

We’d be interested in hearing, through your responses to this post, about your efforts to engage the early childhood development community and your thoughts on how to best serve these youngest patrons.

30 Aug 2013 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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