Dear Educators, Parents and Partners,
Racial injustice has plagued our country for centuries, and despite progress in many sectors, people of color are still overwhelmingly likely to be subject to tragic police brutality and fatal incidents. The sad incidents of the past few weeks, exacerbated by those who fan the fires of hatred and racial inequities will leave another layer of scars on all our children.
Black and Brown people in our nation are far more likely to be infected and die from the novel Corona Pandemic. The massive layoffs drag down a high percentage of Black and Brown families already struggling behind white neighbors.
The extended school shutdowns will leave children of color even further behind their peers, and more likely to be home without adequate supervision; much less access to high speed internet and full screen devices essential to leaning during this unprecedented crisis. These same children live in the scrublands of book deserts during the best of times. With summer schools and community programs cancelled or curtailed; the inequities grow starker every day.
The indisputable fact is that bias and systemic oppression of marginalized communities are deeply intertwined with many aspects of our culture and society. This is just one more form of intolerable racism that we all must work to recognize and overcome
We at Kids Read Now believe it is critical for the future of our country that we collectively and proactively engage in the difficult conversations to define equity and take action to create a more equitable system.
When I was younger, belligerent neighbors vandalized our home and a week later I was screaming in terror in the Audubon ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. A few years later, I was tear gassed in Washington at a peaceful demonstration that turned ugly with aggressive police presence. Sadly, this year feels like the 1960’s all over again.
We can, we will, we MUST do better.
Speaking up for the oppressed, working for justice, helping the disadvantaged is what we all need to do. Today more than ever.
Mailing 350,000 books to families over this extended summer is one way we strive for equitable home-learning, and assuring we deliver books to boost literacy, delivered to homes, overcoming the Covid quarantine measures.
We appreciate that our community of partners, educators and parents are committed to making a real difference.
My hope is that, together, we can help, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “bend the arc of history toward justice.”
When your children get their first books in their hands, it is a good bet they are going to end up in their mouths. Exposing infants to books is an important step on their journey to becoming lifelong readers. They become familiar with the books, exploring them by turning pages, looking at the bright pictures and, yes, even biting them.
At each age, there are certain milestones in reading they should be hitting. These include starting by interacting with the book as a physical object to discussing the broader themes and details of the story they just read. Paying attention to their growth as readers keep them on track to hit that third-grade goal of going from learning to read to reading to learn.
Here is a basic outline of what to expect at each age and grade level:
Up to twelve months:
- Learn to communicate through gestures
- Understand over fifty (50) words
- Respond to books when read to
- Enjoy the tactile aspects of books, like turning the pages and holding the books
One to three years:
- Answer basic questions
- Identify images of simple vocabulary words (cow, green, girl, etc.)
- Encourage them to talk and listen during reading time
- Learn vocabulary and language concepts through repetition of their favorite stories
Preschool (three to four years old):
- Name and recognize most of the letters of the alphabet (up to 18 of them)
- Recognize the sounds associated with individual letters
- Understand how print is read (left to right, top to bottom)
- Explore books independently
- Know the difference between pictures and letters
- Imitate reading a book aloud
- Start to recognize logos and other symbols
- Acknowledge their own names in writing, as well as other commonly seen words
- Start to match spoken and written words
- Recognize basic grammar structures
- Read basic words and understand how they work in a sentence
- Write out letters, numbers, and basic words
- Use pictures and other clues to understand basic words they do not know
- Understand basic story structures (who, what, where, when, why, and how) as well as story organization
- Create basic stories on their own
First and Second Grade:
- Take big leaps in reading starting in first grade
- Read their favorite stories for pleasure
- Recognize an increasing number of sight words
- Start to recognize when they make reading errors and can self-correct
- Figure out unfamiliar words using context and images
- A good time to listen to them read and start correcting them as they do
Second and Third Grade:
- Understand how pronunciation and emphasis affects the story
- Use correct punctuation
- Use correct spelling
- Learn new words through story context
- Organize their writing into paragraphs
- Apply new vocabulary and phrases appropriately
- Read more complex books independently
- Recognize deeper themes and engage reading as a learning tool
- Hold discussions about the stories they are reading
One thing to remember about these milestones in reading: all children learn at their speed. These are all basic guidelines as to what can be expected, but by no means carved in stone. Your child may be more advanced in some stages while behind in others. Teachers and parents working together establish the best way to help each student. The most important part is to stay engaged with students’ efforts and keep encouraging them to read!
There are, on average, 180 days in an elementary school year in the United States. Each day is roughly seven hours. That time does not include weekends for students. Months of school and hours of homework are not always enough to cover every topic. Fortunately, there are many more hours in the day that can be utilized for a wide range of lessons. This trend of “expanded learning” has become popular with parents and teachers alike in many school districts.
Expanded learning gives parents the chance to supplement what students are learning in the classroom. It can be more information about subjects they are learning in school, or about topics that they find interesting and want to explore on their own. It can also be a way to keep their minds active over a long break, like winter or summer.
To assist with educational growth, as well as personal growth, here are some resources and suggestions that can help:
Community Partnerships: Schools and parents can partner with community organizations to help students. These partnerships can support the students’ education, as well as help with their other needs such as clothing, meals, or medical services. While the schools themselves may not offer such additional services, they may have lists of organizations that do.
Family Engagement: Parents are a wealth of knowledge! A growing amount of research shows that the single biggest factor in determining student success is parental engagement. Working at home can be facilitated by community partners and schools. Supporting students outside of school is an important part of a child’s education.
A Disparate Team of Educators: To stretch the learning experience as far as it can go, multiple perspectives should be taken into account. The more people that can offer input on educational activities, the better the end results for the students. With a group of teachers, parents, community leaders, and professionals that communicate well, student experiences can greatly enhance lessons.
Here are some things to consider when involving students in these activities:
Programming Supporting Lessons: Any activities outside of school hours should reinforce what is going on in class. These do not have to be lessons that come from a lesson plan. They could be social skills, playing games, or anything else that would be a benefit in class. These offer possibilities to reinforce soft skills that help social interaction and emotional intelligence.
Voluntary Participation: Self-selected lessons are the best lessons, because the students are more engaged. Their natural curiosity takes over when presented with something they want to know. This is an excellent opportunity to engage them in topics they want to know that are not part of their school lessons. It can be a chance for them to dive into topics they showed interest in during class, but ones that did not fully fit into their schedules.
Assessing the Results: Every time you work with another organization, you want to make the experience better the next time. After you have completed an expanded lesson, take time to review the experience. Were your children engaged or distracted? Did they jump into certain parts of the lesson and avoid others? How did they react when they came home?
Programs like Kids Read Now provide ways to support and encourage student learning outside the class. To find more programs like ours, start by asking your school what activities they offer for expanded learning. If they do not have what you need, they can often recommend organizations you can contact. Your local library is a great place to start looking for after-school activities for students as well. It often has programs geared to many interests or can point you to places that offer them.
When you bring learning outside of the classroom, it enhances and reinforces what is going on in the classroom. Creating lifelong learners means teaching them early that discovering new information can happen anywhere, at any time…even outside of a class.
When children first begin to explore reading, it is not a solitary activity. Parents spend time with their children teaching them to read.
The lessons can be as straightforward as sitting down and reading with your children or as subtle as getting them to read recipes or books about characters in other media. It can even be modeling the behavior, like reading after dinner or while on vacation.
Children absorb the actions of the people that are close to them. The more activities a parent or other family member can model for them, the better off they are when they begin school.
The involvement of parents in education is critical and often underestimated. The more involved parents are in the education of their children, the better their outcomes as students. When parents get involved, it lowers the barriers to where learning happens. Children start to see that discovering new information is an activity that can occur anywhere, from watching a teacher at a chalkboard to a parent reading with them at the kitchen table.
Lowering barriers is not only something to do for children. Encouraging parental interaction is essential. Many parents, especially ones from low-income families, do not have the best memories of their time at school. That makes them very reluctant to engage with teachers, even if it is in the best interest of their children. Teachers will always be intimidating to some parents, so building relationships with them are crucial.
Even parents that enjoyed their time at school may be hesitant to approach teachers. They want to make a good impression on their children’s teachers as well. Making sure they know the goals of any meetings or interactions allows them to prepare, putting them at greater ease.
Interactions between parents and teachers, like open houses or parent-teacher meetings, are occasional opportunities to exchange information. Offering a weekly email, Facebook page, or website where parents can see what their children are doing provides a much more constant stream of feedback. This open communications channel keeps parents informed about what their children do in school. This channel becomes an open invitation to interact. Information about classroom events, whether positive ones or warnings, school activities, and homework students bring home becomes part of the communication. Sharing events happening with the family, providing the teacher with the ability to prepare for possible behavioral issues or acting out.
Research consistently shows that two of the greatest indicators of student success involves the socioeconomic status of the parents and parental involvement with their education. Parents who offer support at home for students give them a better chance to succeed later in life. Teachers support this effort by helping parents understand what they can do at home to reinforce their lessons. Anything from showing how the lessons apply to the real world to go over the assigned homework. Involving the parents in education creates another layer that brings students that much closer to becoming lifelong learners.
Back to school time is here! Sales are in full force, teachers are getting their classrooms ready, and families are taking their last trips and vacations. The start of school means that late nights are over, as well as spending excessive time playing video games. It is back to early mornings, gathering homework, and getting everyone out the door on time. It can be stressful for families to make this transition without the right planning.
Putting the whole family on the school schedule does not have to be Herculean labor. Nor should it be something that is expected to work suddenly. Over time, the following strategies will help you get your family off to school and ready for a full day of learning.
Plan out a daily schedule – When school begins, schedules can get complicated. Having a master schedule for both parents and children will help keep everyone coordinated when the days get busier.
Plan out wardrobes – Scrambling for clothes in the morning can be time-consuming. Not just deciding what everyone is going to wear, but finding all of the clothing items and making sure they are clean.
Create a lunch schedule – It takes time to prepare lunches in the morning. Working out a monthly or weekly program of lunches allows you to take time on the weekend to do the shopping and preparation. That way, on a busy morning or before bed, putting together meals to go happens in no time at all.
Organize a space for school work – With a school routine comes homework. Even in a small space, a dedicated area for doing homework can exist. It allows children to set a routine while giving them a quiet place to do their work. It could be a small desk in their room or a corner of the kitchen table you set up just for them.
Start to set a regular bedtime – Getting into a schedule is critical for students. That includes having a regular bedtime. During the summer there can be some flexibility, but it is vital that during the school year they get enough sleep. Experts recommend that school-aged children have between nine and eleven hours of sleep a night. They should be getting at least eight. Lack of sleep can cause a multitude of issues, from children not remembering lessons to behavioral problems.
Start getting your morning routine ready the night before – As a parent, you are going to have some time after your children go to bed to get your morning routine ready. It is going to be very similar to your child’s routine – getting your lunch ready, choosing your outfit, and preparing all the things to get you prepared for the day. Mornings are going to be busy, and prepping in the calm of the night will help.
Create a School Organization Station – Many homes have family organization stations. They are locations where children find everything they need for their day. Schedules, backpacks, homework, books, and any accessories required for the day. Locate it near a door where everyone leaves, so it is convenient for the family.
Have a fun activity planned after the first day – Even though the first day is typically not very stressful, it is nice to have something fun for children prepared when they get home. It can be playing one of their favorite games, reading a favorite book, or letting them choose a favorite dinner. It is a little thing they get to look forward to at the end of the day.
Over the first days and weeks of the school year, there will be glitches in the system. Your children become used to putting their bags at the organization station, working on their homework, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. All this extra planning makes the transition back to a regular schedule much more comfortable for younger children, making it easier for the family to get into the back to school mode.
When children create Christmas lists in September and October, how many books make their way on those lists?
If the student is an avid reader, probably quite a few. Otherwise, most parents would be hard pressed to find one sample of literature found wrapped under a tree on December 24th. However, that is not the story in all parts of the world. The small island of Iceland has made a tradition of giving books over the holidays. In fact, it is such a popular event they have a name for it: jólabókaflóð.
Jólabókaflóð translated into English is “Christmas book flood.” Iceland did not gain its independence from Denmark until World War II. When it did, there was not much to do. With the world deep into war, most resources were limited.
Paper was one of the few resources to which Icelanders had ample access. Meaning products made of paper, like books, became a focus in Icelandic culture. Around September, lists of books begin to trickle out around the country, cumulating in the entire nation receiving the Bókatíðindi, “Book Bulletin” in English.
Until very recently, this massive book release was more necessity that treasure. The resources to publish all of these books did not exist until late in the year. Now the full bulletin is sent out in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. This is a list of every book published in the country at the time. And while you may think that there cannot be that many books published by 335K people, you would be surprised.
Reykjavik was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011. It is a designation they more than earned. A study in 2013 by Bifröst University showed that over fifty percent of Icelanders read at least eight books a year. Over 90% of the population reads at least one book a year.
There may be only 200,000 people in Reykjavik, but in 2009 they checked out over 1.2 million books. Iceland is a country that loves their books and loves to read. If they are not reading books, they are writing them; 50 percent of the people in the country will have a book they wrote published. Even with all of these writers, the number of books published is relatively small. In 2011, there were 350,000 books published in the United States; in Iceland there was 842. Put in terms of population, the rate Icelanders publish books is double what it is in the U.S.
Of course, this flood makes for a great night on Christmas Eve. On that day, everyone exchanges books and spends the rest of the evening reading with a drink to warm them up. The book you will receive as a gift will be a physical, hardbound book. The Icelanders cherish their books, so much so that e-readers are few and far between. Even the paperback, a staple of international book publishing, only became popular in the 21st century. When you give the gift of a book, it is a gift that is going to last.
Why not adopt a tradition like this into a classroom setting?
Host a white elephant where everyone brings a favorite book to share on the last day of school before winter break! This gives students a chance to give books they love away for other students to enjoy while freeing up some space on the bookshelf at home. After the exchange, spend some time in class either reading one of the books to the students or giving the students quiet time to read one of their new gifts. It is a fun way to end the first half of the year and associates the act of reading to a pleasurable experience.
The impetus for building student literacy is typically school-related. Teachers and administrators want them to be successful in school because they know the importance of early education on the child’s future.
There are also the state-mandated goals that measure student achievement and can affect the school district in many ways. Beyond those two significant incentives, there is a third one that is important to the student. Low levels of literacy have an impact on the student outside of the classroom. And not just their ability to get homework done.
Coming from a home where the parents struggled in school can inhibit the growth of a student. Parents with low levels of literacy tend to have lower incomes. With fewer resources, there is a higher probability of housing and food instability. Students without this stability concern themselves less with the grades they are getting and more with how will they provide the familiy their next meal. Possibly where they will be staying that evening.
Parents working hard to make ends meet do not have that extra time to spend speaking with their children or helping them with homework. One indicator of student success is their vocabulary as they come into school. In a study done by Hart and Risley, students in low-income families are exposed to just one-third of the words that students in professional families. And vocabulary is essential to student growth.
With time being at a premium in low literacy homes, the learning experiences children have there can also be limited. There are very few trips to bookstores, museums, libraries, or other areas students can have educational experiences outside of the school.
Those trips may be limited by geography; lower income houses are typically not located near these centers of learning. Another limitation is their connection to the community that can help them find these unique places.
Those with low literacy work hard to hide their lack of reading ability. They use isolation as a way to protect their secret, not being involved in their community or school. Staying separate from these resources may mean they miss valuable opportunities to help their students, or themselves, outside of school.
Staying healthy can also be a challenge. From reading labels on food to understanding the medicine a doctor prescribes, low literacy has an impact the general well being of a family. Even common health issues can be exacerbated when medication is not used correctly, causing the student to miss more time from class.
They are either ill themselves, or they may not be able to leave home because of a sick relative. Missing this time can put students further behind, adding to any frustrations they may be having in school.
Schools offer a unique opportunity to break this cycle of illiteracy. Building a love of learning in school may inspire the rest of the family to improve their literacy. Siblings may be drawn to mimic what their brother or sister is doing, and become interested in reading themselves.
They may become the readers in the house, helping parents interpret bills or introducing them to new places to go in the area. Getting a parent to build their skills, through inspiration from a child or working with them personally, is a mechanism that can stop that vicious cycle.
W.H. Auden said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”
For children, this love of language translates to an accessible introduction to literacy through poetry and a broader education on its beauty and intricacies.
Introduced early and often during a child’s journey with literacy, poetry can mean the difference between just knowing words and leveraging every aspect the word’s power.
Poetry raises a child’s awareness of words
In poetry, every word choice matters.
Whether it’s for the purpose of rhyming, alliteration, metaphor or a perfect way to describe something, word choice means more in the context of poetry. Every decision has a particular reason behind it. Every word fits, and it fits for a reason.
A child may not fully understand why the particular choice to use “go” instead of “walk” in “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” As she hears the poem over and over, she can soon understand that the poem is more pleasant because of that choice. Eventually, she will figure out why that decision happened and gain a greater understanding of word choice through that process.
Poetry grows a child’s vocabulary
Poetry exposes children to new words. On the quest to capture their meaning perfectly, a poet will travel highways of synonyms to find the perfect choice.
Think back to the first time you used a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary. For many, it was while writing a poetry assignment in school. The hunt for the perfect word choice can introduce young poets to a multitude of new words, with slightly different meanings to achieve the exact feeling the young poet hopes to make. If a child isn’t writing poetry and is just on the receiving end of a well-crafted masterpiece, they benefit from the exposure to new words and an expanded vocabulary.
Poetry designed for children is often rhythmical and rhyming. It makes it easier for children to memorize and figure out the meaning of new words.
Poetry makes children better learners
The musical structure of poetry makes memorization and recitation easier as well. Poetry improves children’s literacy by linking memory with audio and visual cues that help children recognize patterns, make logical next-step conclusions and give young students an advantage when learning anything from new languages to math.
Poems and rhymes also can be leveraged to help teach children rules, lessons and easy tricks for working through complicated problems. Some examples are how many days in the months, how long to brush your teeth, what to do when you are angry, and when to eat.
The rhythms are light, and the rhyming is fun,
But the work of a poem is never done.
Poetry is often incorporated early on and often in younger grades and for a good reason. The benefits of teaching poetry can set children up for a successful path to a better understanding of literacy and learning. Kids Read Now has witnessed the benefits of how poetry improves children’s literacy. That is why we offer some books of poetry on our Wish List every year! Poems can give children the tools they need to make the complicated simple and make learning fun!
As an adult, when you hear about fables, you very often can point to a clear lesson you once learned from one. You may even find yourself repeating the lesson–or moral–like a mantra to yourself as you go about your day.
Slow and steady wins the race.
One good turn deserves another.
Birds of a feather flock together.
It’s not surprising that the lessons we receive from reading fables stay with us. Aesop’s fables have been passed down since well before the 1600s when they became widely distributed in print after the invention of the printing press. Before that, they were part of a rich tradition of oral storytelling. They were spoken from one generation to another, dating back to ancient Greece sometime between 620 and 560 B.C. Aesop, a slave and a storyteller, was credited with some the fables that stay with us culturally even today.
Not all fables we know and retell today were told initially by Aesop himself. That’s the beauty of the fable. They take a lot of twists and turns along the way as they are passed down, becoming more relatable. The stories change along the way but gaining power as they evolve.
If the presence of the lessons from fables likely to be sticking out to you right now as a reminder of your relationship with fables isn’t enough to convince you that these simple, yet often repeated stories have a profound staying power, you can also turn to the numbers as proof.
Aesop’s fables have been in circulation–orally included–for more more than 2,000 years. A search for Aesop’s Fables on Amazon.com still yields more than 7,400 results.
Fables have always held a special place in the young reader’s journey, though that is not how they initially began. Fables originally formed to begin discussions about philosophy or politics. Around the time of the Renaissance, they helped children make sense of the world around them, particularly what they are learning about morality and values. The tales emerged at a time in their lives when the decisions about what choices are right and wrong are often not yet as clear.
Fables exist to help to make murky choices seem straightforward and clear, especially for young readers. Complex issues are translated into relatable and friendly terms.
What can we learn about morality from intriguing stories about lions, rabbits, mice or tortoises, for example, that may get lost from a seemingly boring lecture or lesson on morality from one’s elders?
It turns out a lot.
Beyond the simplified lesson on morality that children can easily decipher for themselves from a fable, they are also learning a variety of other lessons and skills just from consuming the story. They may have been told the story orally, shown visually or read for themselves.
Because they are so simple, fables can be morphed or changed slightly to fit the audience. They can be told aloud, acted out or presented on paper, making them easily to deliver to a variety of audiences with different learning styles.
The stories themselves, also can be changed, making them more relatable by substituting different characters, settings or plot points, while keeping the base moral the same, so the lessons are absorbed more quickly.
The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages is preserved into perpetuity by a nation’s proverbs, fables, folk sayings and quotations. -William Feather
Through reading, hearing or watching them, children gain a sense of understanding about the world around them. They become more aware of human nature and feelings. They see the process that goes into decision making and the consequences that come as results of those decisions.
Meanwhile, children also become better storytellers themselves, preparing themselves to become better readers of more complex stories. Stories turn them into better writers themselves because they’ve learned the basics of storytelling from the most basic of stories. They can begin to understand the basics of plot, an appreciation for character development and a greater proficiency in wrapping it all up with a clear conclusion that makes the audience think.
Reading fables has quite a bit more to teach us than a quick lesson about how to outsmart a fox. These endearing stories have taught us a lot in the thousands of years they’ve been a part of our cultural traditions. We continue to learn more the longer we study them. But their presence begs the question: what else do they have to teach us in the millennia to come? Perhaps it is best not to judge them on moral alone.
Not everything you see is what it appears to be.
For young readers, even those not yet reading, the value of libraries cannot be overstated. They open doors to a relationship with reading that can translate to well-rounded students and engaged citizens. By giving children space, opportunity and encouragement to lose themselves learning about any subject they desire, children can be made to feel comfortable and confident enough to be independent thinkers and decision makers. Knowing the benefits of choice is one of the reasons Kids Read Now allows the children to pick the books they want. When readers become freely engaged and entertained, they craft their journeys and following their path.
There are more public libraries than Starbucks in the U.S., according to the association, which reported a total of 17,566 locations, including branches.
Librarians are an important part of the network of adults tasked with creating and nurturing young readers. They ignite this passion within them as they grow. Crafting summer reading programs and library contests can act as incentives that help fill young readers with pride and a sense of accomplishment by rewarding their interest in literacy. Librarians can help children overcome obstacles and open up paths to answers. They guide them and provide them a way to independently discover solutions, knowledge and creative experimentation that becomes the foundation for a healthy relationship with learning.
According to the American Library Association, reference librarians in the nation’s public and academic libraries answer nearly 6.6 million questions weekly. There are more public libraries than Starbucks in the U.S., according to the association, which reported a total of 17,566 locations, including branches. Nearly 100% of public libraries provide Wi-Fi and have no-fee access to computers, giving patrons of all ages access to a valuable resource.
For students, libraries can play a major role in achievement. Research shows the highest achieving students attend schools with well-staffed and well-funded school libraries. Students make almost 1.3 billion visits to these libraries during the school year, which is on par with attendance numbers for movie theaters in 2014.
Libraries have had a significant influence on the majority of Americans’ lives. According to a recent Pew Research Center study on the future of libraries, 78 percent of Americans say they’ve ever been to a local public library, and 76 percent of Americans say that libraries serve the needs of their community well.
[bctt tweet=”Librarians are an important part of the network of adults nurturing young readers.”]
Of those who continue using libraries, 97% of those who used a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months would describe themselves as lifelong learners and a similar share of library website users (98%) also strongly identified with being lifelong learners.
From these statistics, it’s easy to see the value of libraries in establishing positive experiences at a young age and how that can translate into a greater appreciation for reading as an adult. What’s less able to be put into hard numbers, however, are the memories–the smell of books, the mazes of shelves, the memories of adventures through books–those things not tracked by statistics, that can ignite an ongoing passion in children that lives well into adulthood.