Nebraska state senators on the loose, reading rhymes from Dr. Seuss

Sen. Kathy Campbell reads “The Cat in the Hat” to kindergarteners at Maxey Elementary for Read Across America. Photo by Krista Vogel, NewsNetNebraska

The Cat in the Hat costume didn’t seem out of place in the halls of Maxey Elementary School today. In fact, retired Lincoln Education Association member Pat Etherton fit right in with all the striped paper hats and bright red bowties.

Each year on or around March 2 – Dr. Seuss’s birthday – schools, libraries and community centers celebrate Read Across America, an event that brings children and caring adults together to read. Many places organize readings and other activities to celebrate the event and to encourage children and teens to read.

Sens. Kathy Campbell and Amanda McGill took part in the event. Both stressed the importance of reading in children’s development, and while it was Campbell’s first time participating and McGill has been involved before, both said they hope to continue being a part of Read Across America.

Campbell, a former high school teacher, read to kindergarteners at Maxey Elementary during her lunch hour.

“I taught high schoolers – who weren’t near as fun as kindergarteners, I might add,” Campbell said. “They were so cute. They’d kind of anticipate some of the parts, and you’d watch their faces – the ones who had read the book before and knew what was coming.”

Linda Freye’s kindergarten class listened attentively as the senator – donning a red-and-white-striped scarf inspired by the Cat in the Hat – read a Dr. Seuss book.

Kindergartener Cassidy Eckhardt enjoyed listening to Campbell read. “It was awesome,” she said. “I liked her reading us ‘The Cat in the Hat.’”

To gear up for the big day, the class learned about Dr. Seuss, practiced rhyming, wrote their own stories and even made hats for the celebration. Besides Campbell, the class invited guests Jenni Absalon, Lincoln Education Association president, and Etherton, who wore a full Cat in the Hat costume.

“Read Across America is a day to recognize the importance of reading,” Freye said. “Reading is a vital part of our kindergarten day, and we were excited to share our excitement for reading with others, especially our special guest Sen. Campbell.”

Freye met Campbell at a Lincoln education event, where the senator agreed to read to Freye’s class.

“I hadn’t done it before, but it’s a wonderful program,” said the senator. “As long as I know Linda, I’ll be back.”

Like Campbell, McGill read at a Lincoln school. However, she didn’t read to a traditional classroom. Instead, she read at Lincoln High’s daycare, where some student mothers were even given time away from their regular classes to join their children. It was the first time the daycare had participated in the event.

“The literacy and listening to someone read books is important,” daycare coordinator Nancy Hunt said. “The parents could hold their child while reading too, which was a positive aspect.”

While McGill has participated in Read Across America through her role as senator in previous years, she wasn’t always involved.

“I have to admit, I wasn’t really connected to the program before I was elected,” she said.

Now, though, McGill stresses the importance of the program.

“Reading to kids is so important,” she said. “So many kids are coming to preschool and kindergarten without a high vocabulary because reading isn’t one of their regular family habits.”

The children she read to were young – ranging from 4 months to 2 1/2 years of age – so the experience was different from the classrooms she had read to before. Since the students couldn’t necessarily comprehend the stories, McGill focused on setting a good example and finding ways to keep the children’s attention by reading in a playful manner.

“It’s important to set an example,” said McGill. “Hopefully the mothers will go home and continue reading to their children.”

Story by Krista Vogel, NewsNetNebraska

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