First Lady Brings Reading Drive to Peru

What's good for American children is also good for Peruvian kids.

So said first lady Laura Bush Saturday as she brought her campaign promoting reading to children to this South American country.

Bush made the pitch to an audience that included Peruvian first lady Eliane Karp and Education Minister Nicolas Lynch.

Success in school "begins very early in the years between birth and age 5, when the first year of school starts, when children have the very best opportunity to acquire pre-reading and learning skills," Bush said after arriving here with her husband, part of a four-day Latin American trip.

"New research shows what parents have always known intuitively, and that is: when parents hold their babies in their arms, when they sing to them or talk right to them, they are actually promoting physical and emotional growth," she said.

Such interaction, as well as reading to kids from six-months-old and on, helps develop strong parent-children bonds and promotes the child's happiness, the first lady added.

Bush said the Andean Center of Excellence for Teacher Training, which will include institutions in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, is expected to open by the end of this year. The United States has committed $20 million to funding the center and two others in Central America and the Caribbean, she said.

Minutes before, Karp and Lynch described Peru's efforts at bilingual education in a country where 17 percent of kids under 5 speak one of dozens of indigenous tongues as their first language.

Bush nodded and smiled frequently as an interpreter whispered into her ear during the presentation.

Before leaving, Bush was met by two dozen Peruvian children dressed in a traditional outfits from the country's indigenous cultures. Two girls wearing bright feather headdresses and robes from the Amazon jungle handed a smiling Bush bouquets of flowers.