By Valarie Pearce, MEd | Categories All | Critical Thinking | Curriculum | Diversity | Early Education | Educators | Engagement - Classroom | Engagement - Community | Engagement - Family | Equity | Inclusion | K-5 Literacy | Listening | Opportunity Gap | Parents | Reading | Results | Social Emotional Learning | Writing | April 16, 2021

How reading helps children learn social emotional skills

I am a lover of all things book and the written word. As a child, I was precocious and very curious. Thankfully, my father had a great passion for reading and ensured that I, along with my siblings, understood the importance of literacy and that it was something never to be taken for granted. “Many of our ancestors gave their lives for the right to read,” my father would often preach. I wanted to know what he was talking about. Why and how could this happen? In addition, my brain was alive with princesses, dragons, and secret gardens I got to meet often through what remains one of my greatest and most enduring loves, books.

Much of my advanced vocabulary, ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings, empathy for others, and sharp view of the world around me was a direct result of the abundance of books afforded me. I was a proud card-carrying member of the library! I loved checking out Puff the Magic Dragon with its accompanying record tucked in the back (yes, I am proudly dating myself), The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

These books and many others whisked this little Black girl from small city Portland, Oregon to unknown lands of epic trials and triumphs. The ability to read, write, comprehend, and decode the written word was just the beginning. The pure enjoyment of reading was the vehicle that aided me and will ultimately do so for our students today; expanding their minds to the immeasurable possibilities for connection with each other and the world around them.

As the Director of Content Development for Friendzy, a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program for K-8 students, I continue my literacy evangelizing. After all, I am the daughter of a preacher! Research has shown that reading supports SEL. At Friendzy we frame our SEL literacy supports through five distinct frameworks:

  1. Learning social-emotional skills.

    Reading helps children gain a greater understanding of emotions, which can help them understand their own emotions and those of others.

  2. Develop empathy.

    Reading a story creates space for kids to imagine themselves inside the story. This allows them to develop empathy as they experience the lives of other characters and can identify with how they are feeling.

  3. Practice perspective-taking.

    Reading allows children to learn about a wide array of people, places, and events that they may not otherwise experience.

  4. Improve cognitive development.

    Reading provides children with a deeper understanding of the world and fills their brains with a wide range of knowledge. They then use this acquired knowledge to make sense of what they see, hear and read.

  5. Builds relationships and connections.

    Reading brings a classroom of students together for a shared adventure. It  also provides parents with an opportunity to have dedicated time with their children. Reading together provides kids with feelings of connection, attention and is nourishing to the soul.

These key components shift the literacy lens from simply learning to read to reading to learn with great enthusiasm. As an author and educator, I tell my students and the students I meet at school visits when you open up a book, you open up the world. I was given this gift early on and my job is to pay it forward!


For more information about Kids Read Now, contact us.

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By Christina Brownlee | Categories All | Engagement - Family | Games | K-5 Literacy | Parents | Reading | March 19, 2021

Reading time can be fun time too!

Learning to read opens different worlds to children – fantasy, mystery, funny, history – but it can also help them understand the things around them in everyday life that maybe they never thought to notice before. Here are four fun ways to incorporate reading into everyday activities!

  1. Cereal boxes, labels, and cooking instructions

Whether you’re sitting down for breakfast in the morning with the cereal box on the table, preparing dinner with lots of different ingredients, or baking a delicious dessert from a scratch, ask your child to identify words on the boxes, labels, and in cookbooks. Sure, some ingredients are difficult for even the most proficient adult to pronounce, but most packaged foods have easy-to-read packaging and recipes help teach new words while sequencing different steps together.

  1. Street signs

Kids so often know how to get to their favorite places (school, grandma’s house, the park), but may not be paying attention to the signs on the way there. Ask them to and help them read the street and informational signs on the way to your next destination. Instead of turning left at the big tree, soon you’ll be turning left at the stop sign on Maple Street. This is also a great way for kids to learn short abbreviations such as Rd for road, St for street, and Blvd for boulevard. You can also take time to talk about the meaning of potentially new words like yield, U-turn, roundabout, and dead end. These contextual clues help kids remember the words by building on schematic theory.

  1. I-Spy

Especially on longer trips, ask children to look out the window and choose any object they see. They can then say, “I spy something that starts with the letter ‘C’!”. Start naming things around you that begin with the letter they choose. In this case, “corn”, “cow”, and “clouds” could be what they’re spying! Who knows, maybe they’ve spied something that you’ve never noticed! Take turns spying and guessing. Not only is this a fun game to increase family engagement, phonetic understanding, to pass time during car rides, but it helps kids identify the first letter of familiar sights!

  1. Closed captioning

Many enjoy a little screen time every day, so turn screen time into reading time by simply turning on the closed captioning. There are many benefits to closed captioning, and your kids may not even realize they’re learning while enjoying the show. Closed captioning is completely free and oftentimes comes in several different languages if you’re wanting to really spice up screen time. With technological advances, there’s never been an easier time to enjoy and practice reading every day!


If you have any questions about reading every day, please contact us for more information.

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By Kristin Patrick | Categories All | Challenges | Critical Thinking | Early Education | Educators | Engagement - Classroom | Engagement - Community | Engagement - Family | Games | K-5 Literacy | Reading | March 12, 2021

Here are 3 easy ways to keep reading social while social distancing

The cancellation of events has left everyone disappointed at points throughout the past year, and that list of most missed gatherings looks a little different for everyone. For me, it has been the cancellation of two fundraising luncheons that annually bring together authors and readers. I’m what you might call an extroverted reader. By looking at the number of books I consume each year, it’s clear that I value alone time to read and recharge. On the flip side, I have a big appetite for talking with others about what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I plan to read. Since gathering with reader friends for discussion hasn’t been an option, I’ve been relying on technology to satisfy my need to connect with other readers.

Here are three ways that I’ve been able to keep reading social while social distancing. All the strategies below would work for any grownup committed to modeling the life of a reader for the young people in their lives — teachers, librarians, coaches, school administrators, literacy advocates, and parents. Talking about books is what readers do!

Participate in local International Literacy Association (ILA) or National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) affiliate events

ILA and NCTE, like other professional associations, have pivoted to virtual programming through the pandemic. I’ve enjoyed keeping on top of new titles, learning about emerging writers, and making new reader friends through various web events that both ILA and NCTE affiliates have hosted. Most of these events have been free, and even if you can’t be present for a live event you can typically sign up to view the recording later.

Commit to Goodreads

I’ve become somewhat of an unpaid ambassador for this social media platform over the years as I’ve pressured countless friends and family members to join. It’s because I’m a believer! With Goodreads, I’m able to quickly assess how reader friends in Chicago and California rated and reviewed the same title. I’m always eager to learn if others loved a book as much as I did or shared the same frustrations. For grownups not interested in Goodreads, start a text message thread with friends you know who prioritize reading. Three local friends and I have text messaged non-stop since the pandemic began. We snap photos of library hold arrivals and coordinate book drop-offs on each others’ front porches. These phone messages have been welcome day brighteners.

Follow favorite authors on social media

Since book tours and author events haven’t been a possibility for the past twelve months, more writers are turning to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to generate interest in their recent publications. I now have the habit of immediately following an author on social media after finishing a book I love. It’s fun to see who in my circles of friends and colleagues is following the same author, and occasionally I’ll tag a writer to share my praise. It’s a thrill to hear back from an admired author or to receive a like on a post. Following authors writers on social media is also a great way to be alerted to upcoming releases.

There will always be something to be said for discussing the latest bestseller or celebrity book club selection over a shared plate of appetizers. Until groups of friends and colleagues can again safely convene in person to talk about books, consider how virtual author events, social media platforms, and text messaging apps can keep readers connected with other readers. There is no reason to not keep reading social while social distancing!

Kids Read Now would like to thank Kristin for her guest blog contribution. If you have any questions about the Kids Read Now in-home reading program, please contact us.

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By Casey Wente | Categories All | Challenges | Choices | Critical Thinking | Curriculum | Early Education | Educators | Engagement - Classroom | K-5 Literacy | Listening | Reading | Reading Instruction | Summer Reading | February 26, 2021

Although we don’t generally think about it, every experience we have adds to a repertoire of events that create “us” – our background. The stories we share with friends, the lessons we teach our kids, and the bank of knowledge we use to make decisions in the moment. Everything we encounter adds to this background, called schema, which we use to put new information into meaningful context.

Schema is added to and shaped by new experiences and lessons. Throughout the school years, teachers and parents expose children to new information, adding their own background information to the lessons. It is in this way that many generations of humans have passed down information that is important; although, how we share these stories has evolved over the centuries.

Schema Theory uses open-ended questions to encourage students to use their backgrounds to dissect and comprehend media or a situation. Since this is a blog about reading, lets focus on using Schema Theory with books. As mentioned, you can help activate and build children’s schema by asking them simple, open-ended questions. Often it is easiest for children to focus on the relationships in a story since the ups and downs of a relationship are familiar to them. For example, if you just finished Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might discuss with your child the following:

“At the end of the story, Charlie wins. What character in another story has to pass a test to see if they are worthy of winning something?”

This is an example of a “text-to-text” comparison question, where one story is used to put another into context. Kids Read Now uses questions written in Schematic Theory as a ready-made guide for parents and educators to expand comprehension of what is being read. Every Kids Read Now selection has 4 questions written at the reading level of the book, called Discovery Questions. Each question uses a different aspect of schema theory to encourage connections.

The first 3 questions are:

The final question Kids Read Now adds to a book’s set of Discovery questions is a creative question. As we look back to our example of Roald Dahl’s classic, we might ask readers to invent 5 rooms in the chocolate factory with different candies, and then have them describe how these candies might get naughty children in trouble. Have them draw these rooms and tell you out loud, so you can ask them questions and have fun!

My final tips on building schema are to celebrate discoveries and help them share what they know! The confidence in their new connections will encourage them to continue to expand and grow!

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By Casey Wente | Categories All | Challenges | Critical Thinking | Curriculum | Early Education | Educators | Engagement - Classroom | Engagement - Family | Games | Journaling | K-5 Literacy | Reading | Results | Summer Reading | Writing | February 19, 2021

During meetings, are you a notetaker? I often find myself scribbling down notes throughout a meeting only to never refer to them again, simply because I remember what is on them. The act of writing down the information helps my brain convert it to long term memory. The same thing happens when children write. Even more importantly, it helps teach their brains HOW to remember. This is called the “Retrieval Effect” and it’s why practice tests work to help you study for the big test in school.

When you write about a topic, it strengthens your memory and helps you make connections and have deeper thoughts about the subject. As you write, and you think about what you want to write, you begin to weigh the importance of different aspects of the topic. Professor Steven Graham of the Arizona State University Teaching College found—after compiling over 56 studies—that writing “reliably enhanced learning” in science, social studies, and math.

When you ask a student to write about a topic, it helps them demonstrate their comprehension on that topic and reveals gaps in their knowledge. Low stakes writing exercises are a great way to allow free flow thinking and encourage those connections to come to the surface. A low stake writing exercise has no right or wrong answer and is not about spelling or grammar. You are just trying out new ideas. When you remove the pressure of being “right”, you encourage students to find their voice and see the value in their ideas. Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” or, “What’s one thing you know and one question you have?” to help develop an inner dialogue.

MyStories is a writing prompt book developed by Kids Read Now as a fun and engaging set of low stakes writing exercises. Each page has a colorful picture and an area for writing. There’s no right or wrong way for students to use these books. It’s the perfect activity to get students’ creative juices flowing. Visit kidsreadnow.org for more tips on engaging with your children through reading and writing!

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By Christina Brownlee | Categories All | Challenges | Critical Thinking | Early Education | Engagement - Family | Journaling | Listening | Parents | Reading | Social Emotional Learning | Writing | February 12, 2021

Emotions. We all have them. We’ve felt the good, the bad, and the ugly. Happiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, guilt, love. Even though kids are small they can feel some huge emotions, and they should be normalized and discussed.

Building a Support System

Your child should feel safe to discuss emotions and feelings with family, friends, teachers, and other trusted adults like coaches and mentors. This forms your child’s support system. Sharing positive feelings can reinforce good behavior and help your child celebrate accomplishments. Sharing negative feelings can help take some of the burden from your child to allow him or her to be able to process and form a deeper understanding of him or herself.

Emotions are NORMAL

Having emotions is completely normal! It’s important to understand why we’re feeling what we’re feeling so we know how to move forward positively. Have you ever been angry? Did you ask yourself why you’re angry? Did you acknowledge your emotion as valid and real? How did you move forward and release that anger in a healthy way? You can ask and answer these same questions with joy and sadness, too. Girls and boys have big emotions, so don’t let society tell them their feelings are invalid. Girls can be tough warriors and boys can cry, so forget any societal norms that limit or stunt your child’s emotional growth.

Celebration and disappointment

Celebration and disappointment can be two of the hardest emotions to process. Celebration, you say? Yes! So often we don’t take time to celebrate achievements and small victories and go right on to setting the next goal. Take time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments and acknowledge his or her hard work! Celebrations, whether a huge family party or a mini dance party in the car to a great song, reinforce goal setting, hard work, and discipline. On the other hand, if you have a sensitive child, feelings of disappointment can feel all-consuming and overwhelming. It’s important to let your child know that as unpleasant as disappointment is, it’s a normal emotion to feel and it will pass. Disappointment doesn’t have to ruin everything.

Don’t repress emotions

What happens when you shake a pop bottle? The carbonation fizzes and if shaken hard enough, it could explode. There is a time to hold it together and a time to let it go— a time to be strong and a time to be vulnerable. Many adults have trouble knowing the difference, so our children absolutely deserve our support when dealing with big emotions. As adults we know that it’s not always appropriate to have our big feelings in public places, so reinforce your child’s emotions and set expectations for how to deal with those big feelings.

Positive ways to express and release emotions

  1. Reading – read books with your child and discuss how the characters handle emotion, diversity, and conflict
  2. Art – have your child draw, paint, collage, or sketch how he or she is feeling
  3. Writing – have your child start a journal and write down how he or she felt throughout the day
  4. Music – have your child pick a song that describes how he or she feels and turn the volume up
  5. Talk – create a safe space at home where your child can tell you exactly how he or she is feeling, ask questions, and help him or her feel in control by coming up with a plan
  6. Take a break – sometimes it’s best just to take a break and let your child’s mind calm down so you can have a thoughtful discussion when the time is right

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By Leib Lurie | Categories All | Book Deserts | Critical Thinking | Curriculum | Early Education | Educators | Engagement - Classroom | Engagement - Community | K-5 Literacy | Parents | Reading | Results | February 5, 2021

How to get more books and build bigger libraries for your young readers

Parents always ask how they can expand the Kids Read Now summer reading program into the rest of the year.

Here are seven great ways to get more free or almost free books. This will keep your children building their reading skills whether school is open, they’re learning remotely, or it’s somewhere in the middle.

  1. Ask your Principal to check out the Book Bridge program from Kids Read Now. With the Book Bridge program we will mail a book each week to your home for seven weeks. These books include fun and popular titles at your child’s reading level, and you get to get them forever!
  1. Rent or check out books. Most public libraries are open to lend books; most have Kindle, Libby, or myON links that allow downloading eBooks to a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Just call your local library! Like paper books, many favorite electronic books have a waiting list; but it’s easy to reserve books now and get them when available in a few weeks. Digital books from the library have a return date and will automatically vanish from your device when time is up.
  1. Work with your Principal and/or PTO to have a book swap. Children bring in gently used books they have outgrown or are tired of reading, lay them out on tables, and swap for different books to take back home. This can be done with social distancing by having just a few at a time go into the swap area.
  1. Visit used bookstores. They offer terrific titles for just a buck or two, and some even offer book-buy programs, so children can sell books they no longer want and earn money for new books! Find a list of those in your area here.
  1. Scope out library book sales. Most local libraries have an annual book sale where a shopping bag full of books is just a few dollars! Here is a list of those sales in your area this season!
  1. Little Free Libraries. Communities across the country have already established over 100,000 “Little Free Libraries.” These are sheltered bookshelves in public places where people are invited to leave-a-book, take-a-book. If your town doesn’t have these, it’s easy to start. Learn more here.
  1. Barbershop Books. The barbershop book program is a new and innovative community program in cities and towns where libraries can be hard to find. Placing a set of books in barbershops aims to give young boys a safe and convenient place to get books and read with an adult (who is waiting for a haircut)!

More books at home makes a difference. Children from homes with 100 or more books are much more likely to go to advanced trade schools or college; they often go on to get high paying jobs from there as well. This is an amazing benefit just by spending a few dollars and an hour or two a month adding books to your home library. Help assure your child has books at home to practice reading skills learned in school and become a stronger, better, and more confident reader. If you have any questions about how to get more books, please contact us!

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By Emily Randall | Categories All | Challenges | Choices | Critical Thinking | Curriculum | Educators | K-5 Literacy | Parents | Reading | Reading Instruction | Social Emotional Learning | STEM | Summer Reading | January 29, 2021

Pleasure reading and assigned reading are not mutually-exclusive activities

Have you ever taken pause to consider your personal literary history? I remember back to my senior year, an honors English class where I was asked to do this very exercise. It is remarkable how influential the very first pieces of text you consumed are. They can influence your life and relationship with reading. As a recovering perfectionist, I struggled to find the joy and adventure in reading. The fear of receiving a poor grade due to not recalling a piece of text often overshadowed the book in front of me.

I remember back to second grade and the textbooks that would weigh down my small backpack. I was terrified of the reading tests that would follow each chapter we read. It was at that point I began to associate reading with work or something I had to do. This struggle between associating reading with work or fun would continue throughout most of my K-12 career. Reading textbooks, tests, book reports, and presentations were not things I looked forward to as a child; however, there were several books that would eventually mean the world to me as I yearned to keep reading from being a chore.

The first book was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. In fourth and fifth grade my evenings were filled with reading A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. In sixth grade we were asked to read a particular book that was accompanied by a lime green workbook. This book in particular caused me to resist reading. In high school, books like The Bell Jar and 1984 (though assigned reading) kept alive the joy of reading.

This pattern and struggle between reading for assignment and reading for pleasure persisted until a couple of years into college when I was truly able to let go of the idea that I would be graded or forced to recall the text I just read. I cannot help but think of the couple key books that kept my love for reading alive. The freedom to select books I wanted to read helped me overcome anxieties related to assigned reading.

Research shows, “Students who engage in pleasure reading experienced marginal average increases of .11% in English and 1.71% in science and higher increases of 4.43% in mathematics and 2.05% in history”. It is imperative we teach and model pleasure reading to the children in our lives regardless of our positive or negative past experiences. Recently, I have found a love for reading self and professional development books in addition to assigned readings. I have realized the two activities are not mutually exclusive. It took a while, but I have gotten to the point where assigned reading no longer replaces or interferes with pleasure reading. Have you given yourself the opportunity to read for fun regardless of your past experiences with reading?

The Kids Read Now Wish List includes over 120 popular titles, so please contact us to learn how we can help your little readers find new books they’ll love to read!

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By Leib Lurie and Barb Lurie | Categories All | Challenges | Choices | Critical Thinking | Early Education | Engagement - Family | K-5 Literacy | Listening | Parents | Reading | Reading Instruction | January 22, 2021

Young kids love to read the same book over and over again. Their developing brains see new things in the pictures and better understand the story each time they read it. Plus, the consistency of seeing the same story unfold the same way each time helps children develop a strong sense of sequencing and process.

Sometimes the world can be a scary place for kids, especially when families are stressed by job, healthcare, and quarantine issues. Books provide a comfortable escape and a way to see that things work out at the end of the story. So, please, don’t feel badly if you’re bored as an adult reading the same story again to or with your child. You are helping your child learn to deal with the world!

Even the smallest child can memorize a dozen of their favorite books. This repetition also helps kids remember ‘sight words’, the many words that don’t conform to phonics or ‘sounding them out’, like DOUGHNUT, which a child might try and pronounce like DOO-G-NUT or THROUGH, which phonetically should sound like THROW-GH or KNIFE may sound out as K-nife. These are called sight words, where children need to see and hear them repeatedly to know them by heart.

Reading aloud lets children hear the words and (by pointing at the words when you read) see them and match them with the story. This builds their vocabulary, and they start to understand the many ways words are used in sentences and actions to describe what is happening. This can make for a richer, deeper understanding and love for the printed word. Perhaps the most important reason to read to your child is to create a strong bond; a lasting experience of memories reading together. Give your child a sliver of your time and a big piece of your mind.

What to read? Almost anything your child loves. The most requested books we gift to kids are those with a funny story, or those that talk about gross things!

Kids Read Now has many “read-to-me” books. Many of the words will be too big and hard for a learning reader to read on their own; but they will understand the story and the words, especially if you stop and ask questions such as:

No matter whether your child reads alone, or you read to him or her, encourage reading every day. Building reading skills at home is the best way to reinforce those taught in school and will make your child a better reader and a stronger student.

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By Glen Miller | Categories All | Book Deserts | Curriculum | Early Education | Educators | Engagement - Family | Equity | K-5 Literacy | Learning Loss | Opportunity Gap | Parents | Reading | Results | Summer Reading | January 15, 2021

It’s not enough to say that home libraries are important. We need to take it a step further and ask why home libraries are important and how we can help build your student’s home library.

Why a home library?

Let’s start with this: “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class,” 20-year research study in 27 countries. That’s a three-year academic head start! The study also found that the effect is greatest on economically disadvantaged students. The Annie E. Casey foundation reports that 79% of economically disadvantaged kids are below proficient in reading by fourth grade. Compare that to the number of books found in their homes, and we have a pretty good argument for a concerted effort to build home libraries among our most vulnerable population.

Kids love to collect. They collect to own, organize, and prioritize – skills that will pay lifelong benefits. The impact of a home library is far-reaching. In fact, elementary teacher Justin Minkel found through his project called The 1000 Book Project, students who built home libraries actually transformed the family literacy culture.

Summer Slide – “The way we’ve always done it.”

I have had hundreds of discussions with educators on the best way to build a summer reading program. I learned that school districts have employed the same four ideas for many years, yet the results remain the flat 65% of fourth graders are below proficiency. These practices include:

Learning loss elimination through home libraries – BEST PRACTICE

Mailing books to kids every 10 to 14 days removes many of the hurdles mentioned above and builds anticipation while also building home libraries. Allowing kids to choose the titles in their library creates ownership. Kids Read Now provides weekly resources to parents; this makes it easy for them to engage with their kids and increase comprehension. It can be as simple as a Discovery Sheet with four questions specific to the book. These best practices are all supported in current research on mitigating learning loss like this one from The University of Wisconsin – Madison. The power of a home library cannot be understated. If you build it, they will read.

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