Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin was at Jameson School in Old Orchard Beach Monday as part of Maine’s Read to ME Challenge. She read ‘Manolo & the Unicorn’ to second graders at the school. Courtesy photo

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin kicked off Maine’s Read to ME Challenge on Monday by reading “Manolo & the Unicorn” to second graders at Jameson Elementary School in Old Orchard Beach. The students enthusiastically responded to Makin’s call for them to join the Read to ME challenge themselves and read to an adult or younger child in their lives, according to a MDOE press statement. They also discussed their favorite books and who the students plan to read to.

The Read to ME Challenge encourages adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, and then post it to social media and challenge others to do the same using the hashtag #ReadtoME. This is the ninth year that the Maine Department of Education (DOE) is collaborating with community organizations and schools on this month-long public awareness campaign to promote the importance of literacy for all of Maine’s students, regardless of age. The DOE will highlight Read to ME Challenge events throughout February through Read Across America Day.

“This is about sharing the love and joy of reading,” Makin said. “When you’re able to read together, it creates shared human experiences that transcend everything else that is happening in our electronic world. When you hear the words, and those words create the colors and the shapes in your mind, you can create a whole different world and it’s a very magical and beautiful thing for kids. Reading just 15 minutes a day can help create a lifelong habit for children.”

Reading aloud to a child 15 minutes a day for five years results in 27,375 minutes of language exposure, which can put children on the path to high literacy achievement and helps them build knowledge and vocabulary, according to the MDOE statement. Research demonstrates a number of benefits to reading to children, from birth through their childhoods and even teenage years, including modeling reading as an enjoyable lifelong activity, stimulating brain development, reducing stress and anxiety, building knowledge of the world, and helping develop the skills necessary to succeed in their lives.

The Maine DOE recently launched $10 million in literacy grants for schools to build the capacity of year-long, core literacy instruction for all students and support core literacy instructional components based on the science of reading, including phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Schools and community organizations can find a toolkit and resources on the Department of Education website and the department will be sharing videos, photos, and updates from the challenge all month long on social media. Participants in the challenge are reminded to use the hashtag #ReadtoME and to tag the Maine DOE at @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 on Facebook, and @mainedepted on Instagram.

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