Education Matters: A literacy breakfast gift


"Oh, mom, I'm supposed to remind you of the literacy breakfast. It's tomorrow morning. Well, OK, so I kind of forgot the paper that my teacher said she sent home in my mailbox. I was supposed to tell you last week. But I know it wasn't in my mailbox, 'cause I check it all the time, every day, really. There was no paper, I am just positive ...

"But anyway, the point is that tomorrow is the literacy breakfast. You can come, right?"

What mother would say no to such earnest enthusiasm? The next morning had just shifted to include breakfast and books at the elementary school fifth grade classroom, starting at 8 a.m.

We've been attending literacy breakfasts for about seven or eight years–this youngest member of our family used to happily attend before she was in school. While each teacher, grade and child has done it slightly differently, the main focus on literacy remains constant. Sometimes, we've gone in to hear our child read to us, curling up on the floor in a corner. On other occasions, we've learned about their instruction on sentence structure and grammar, walking through their lessons with them and reviewing some of their current work.

We walked quickly, stripping off our necessary February weather layers as we hiked to the far end of the school to her classroom. Her teacher and para greeted us warmly, encouraging us to sign in near the food table. The Literacy Breakfast options have not changed much at any of these events, and the expected tray did not disappoint with its bagels and cream cheese, yogurt, bananas, fruit juices and milk.

Our daughter's favorite moments in learning seem to have centered on early American settlement and exploration, a theme that has been covered in different ways and slight different time eras so far. This year, they have been discussing the reasons explorers left their homes, and what happened after they finally arrived in new countries. She eagerly picked up the typed document and shoved it in my hands. "It's about the way people came here," she said as I started to scan through. "And what we did to the native people."

"This is what we wrote about the presidential election process," she said, handing me another neatly typed and stapled package. "You know, the caucuses and the primaries ..."

"I didn't know you were studying this," I said. "I should have asked you for information on how the whole Iowa caucus worked the other night."

She grinned, and scampered off to the food table to grab something quickly. I had almost finished reading her paper–thinking how nice it was to be able to read something typed and spell-checked–when she returned. "Look, Mom, here's the book my teacher picked out for me."

This has been a favorite part of the literacy breakfast for all of my kids over the years: a brand new paperback for them to take home and keep. There are many, many books in our house–but the ones chosen for them by a teacher have been especially cherished. "Oh," our daughter said excitedly, "This one looks good!"

Her friend had a different book on her desk; every kid receives their own book.

I don't know how long it takes each teacher to complete this task, but it is clear that it is a labor of love for every one of them. This simple act of selecting something that matches each kid's individual interests and reading levels takes a lot of care and thought. They are as excited to give the gifts as the kids are to receive it.

The teacher reminded her students that they could exchange the book if they didn't like it. But it didn't matter ... because most of them were already engrossed, reading away, smiles on their faces.

By 8:30, another literacy breakfast chapter has closed. I'm going to miss this after our final elementary school year in sixth grade, I realize; there's just nothing like a good literacy breakfast.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at


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