The staff and educators at Nikiski North Star Elementary have found a new way to encourage literacy in their students, even before they enroll.
In fact, they are jumping in right out of the womb. This fall, the school’s growing families started receiving care packages called Baby Baskets, which are actually bags, full of reading-related materials.
“We want to encourage literacy at a young age so we can begin the process of developing a love of reading,” said Margaret Gilman, school principal. “If kids enjoy reading and having that positive association of snuggling up while reading a book, that makes learning to read more enjoyable later on.”
Many in the school community have had a hand in the new program.
The bags include a couple of books, a onesie designed by teacher Gina Ellis and ways to make sure little ones and their families have access to literature, Gilman said. There is also a burlap bag made and donated by another North Star teacher whose young child passed away nearly a decade ago.
Information on the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides monthly book selections for free to registered families, also comes with the baskets.
First grader Regan Savly brought a bag home for his baby sister Thursday.
The newest addition to his family was announced to the entire school during morning announcements and he picked up the package immediately afterward.
Regan is looking forward to having something fun to do with her in the future, when she turns six or seven, he said.
“I think it would help the moms,” Regan said of the baskets. “I think that it is a good idea.”
So far, 18 parents have had their Nikiski North Star students bring home the welcome gifts, Gilman said. Originally they had prepared 15 for the entire school year, she said. No one has turned down a bag so far.
The group of nearly 100 students that stay for Boys and Girls Club every day after school, have helped decorate and put the bags together, Gilman said.
Erin Boehme, a mother of three Nikiski North Star students, was the first to receive a Baby Basket since the program began.
This October, after her little girl was born, she received a call from Gilman letting her know a bag was coming home with her kids.
“It was a big secret I was getting one,” Boehme said. Her friend Ellis, who designed the onsies, knew for a while what was headed Boehme’s way.
Boehme said she loves the idea, which makes it easier for her newborn to fulfill their family’s requirement that members read at least 20 minutes every single day. She is a firm believer that it is never too early to start reading to a child.
By the time Boehme’s oldest was two-weeks-old she was reading to him, she said.
“It was the only way he would stay awake when I would nurse him,” She said.
By the time he was four months old, he could turn pages in a book, Boehme said. Already, her new four-month-old daughter is visibly attentive to the stories Boehme reads to her older siblings each night, she said.
The trick is to pick age appropriate material, Boehme said. She tried reading a chapter book to her oldest early on and he didn’t care to follow at all, she said.
“Goodnight Moon” and “Runaway Bunny” are the two titles that were picked for the baby baskets, Gilman said.
They are both short and simple, enough to keep her babies interest, Boehme said.
“I don’t think it is ever too early to engage like that with your children,” Boehme said. “If for nothing else, than just for the bonding time with your kids.”