Prof. Margalit Ziv, Head of Teaching and Learning Graduate Studies, Academic Director of Bidayat Early Childhood Center, al-Qasemi Academic College of Education;
Haifa Sabbagh, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Dr. Mahmoud Zohdi, Head of Education Department,
Reading books with children from an early age has been proven worldwide to increase their language and literacy development significantly; it contributes to their social-emotional development and predicts achievements in school.
Whereas reading books with children is common among most Israeli-Jewish families, the culture of book reading is less developed in the Israeli-Palestinian society. In this society, there is less awareness of the importance of book reading, limited access to quality books and insufficient linguistically and culturally appropriate instructional material. The difference in the book reading experiences of Jewish and Arab children contributes to the large gap in scholastic achievements between children from these different backgrounds.
In order to create a deep and broad change in the culture and habit of book reading with children in Arab society and reduce the gaps between Jewish and Arab preschool children, it is important to accompany the efforts of the Ministry of Education with municipal-community programs. “Umm el-Fahem Reads” operates in order to accomplish these goals. The program began in 2012 and is planned to continue for two more years (until 2016). A unique collaboration between the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Umm el-Fahem Municipality, Bidayat – Early Childhood Center at al-Qasemi College of Education, and the Ministry of Education aims to establish an academic community model for advancing book reading culture, which can be adopted by additional Arab local authorities. The program's goals are: to create an organizational and professional leadership with a commitment and knowledge to promote reading books with children; to deepen the awareness of the importance of reading books with children among professionals and parents and to enrich their knowledge regarding methods for shared book reading; to expand the accessibility of families to high-quality books; to encourage and increase book reading with children as a routine in preschools and families; and to develop culturally appropriate curricular materials regarding book reading with children.
To achieve these goals, capacity building courses and workshops have been conducted for leading interdisciplinary professionals, community activists, teachers, teachers' aides, toddler caregivers and parents. The courses have focused on deepening the participants' understanding of the importance of book reading and introducing the principles and methods of shared reading. Quality books have been purchased for educational settings and libraries. Community events focusing on book reading activities have been organized. A unique course was conducted for professionals and community activists, during which they initiated book-reading projects. An important goal for the next two years is to establish a community book-reading center that will provide guidance for professionals and parents and will conduct multiple community book-reading activities.