SIOUX CITY -- Sawyer Klemme is far too young to read. But at 4 months old, he is beginning to comprehend words.
"You must like monkeys, don't you?" D.J. Todt, a physician with UnityPoint Family Medicine Sunnybrook Clinic, said as she gave her young patient a gift of a "Five Little Monkeys" picture book.
"Oh, Sawyer loves animals," mom Erica Lenz said as her son smiled at the book cover. "Even his binky is shaped like a giraffe."
Sawyer received the book, courtesy of a recently launched initiative aimed at improving literacy and educational achievement.
"Along with other community organizations, the Sioux City Community School District has launched '0 to 3: Prime Age to Engage,'" Associate Superintendent Kim Buryanek explained. "The goal is to make families and childcare providers aware of the true power that they have in impacting the future success of children."
They can do this simply by playing, singing, talking and reading to their children.
"Children learn language by listening to adults," Buryanek said. "The key is to engage children."
The earlier, the better.
A child's brain is developed by age 3, and 90 percent by age 5.
Buryanek said only 16 percent of preschool-aged kids have age-appropriate skills and only 44 percent of children in the Sioux City schools arrive in kindergarten meeting or exceeding reading readiness levels.
"If this reading readiness isn't addressed by the third or fourth grade, this gap will likely follow the student through school and into adulthood," she said.
Thus the 0-to-3-year window remains so pivotal.
Children learn how to talk by listening to the way their families talk.
Also kids learn communicative skills through play. A parent can use different noises for toys like trucks and animals.
"These different pitches or noises help your child to develop the basics of language," Buryanek said.
Singing is also important since it slows down language in a way in which children can hear syllables in a word.
Reading, according to Buryanek, is the single most important way to prepare a child for school.
"Read whatever you see throughout the day as a way to increase a child's vocabulary," she said. "Make reading as interactive as possible. If reading a favorite book, have the child turn the page and ask them questions as you read."
Talking, playing, singing and reading to a child between the ages of 0 and 3 can change their lives forever.
"People may think what does a baby know," Buryanek said. "Actually, babies know and they're constantly learning."
Which is certainly true for young Sawyer, who is still ecstatic about the book he received in his doctor's office.
"I'll read the book to you as soon as we get home," mom Erica said. "It looks like a good one."