Native Village
Youth and Education news
December 2009  Volume 2

StoryMakers program brings books to children in rural, tribal communities
By Vince Devlin

Condensed by Native Village

Montana: Yolanda Page is an attorney with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. She is also a mom to two young girls who she reads to every night.

The payoff will come down the road, said Linda Clark.

"Connections in children's brains are built through their early experiences," Clark says. "When they're exposed to books very early in life, it jump-starts the spiral of competencies and skills, and makes a huge different when children enter school."

Clark directs a program called StoryMakers. StoryMakers' goal is to get books into the hands of parents and their preschool children on Montana's reservations and in rural and tribal communities. An average of 6,000 children are served every six months.
The books are strong and meant to last.

 "They're sturdy, slobber-proof," says Jeanne Christopher, director of Early Childhood Services for the tribes. "You can chew on them, spill milk on them, and still use them."

Books are delivered with tips to help parents get the most out of the reading material. For instance, Clark says, any picture book can develop math skills, whether you count apples in a tree, sheep in a field or flowers in a garden. They also help with literacy, early language skills, learning sounds, logic, colors, shapes, sizes and sorting.

 "But we never say we're serving children directly," Clark said.  "We're supporting parents. It's parents who need the support, and parents who can make the difference."

The StoryMakers program is present on the state's seven Indian reservations, and open to parents of newborn through age 5 children in the 16 rural and tribal communities served. The only requirement is a parent who wants his or her child to have the books.

"Buying books for your children in today's economy, when people are struggling to keep the lights on, their houses warm, buy food ... this gives them the opportunity to have something they can share with their child," Christopher  says.

Four or five titles are selected every six months, then purchased by the thousands and given away. Most families receive one or two books, depending on the age of their child or children.

Clark says studies show early childhood education has much more impact than the education or training a person receives after high school. Children entering school can be as much as two years apart in terms of their skill levels. StoryMakers is part of a student's success.

"It's helped tremendously with their learning and remembering," says Yolanda Page. "It's nice for kids whose parents can't afford to buy books. What I really like is the sense of belonging. When they check a book out of the library they really like, they have to give it back, but these books are theirs."

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