The Gift of Literacy
*Originally posted 11/23/16*
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
― Frederick Douglass
As an exercise, pause right now and think about everything you’ve done today that required reading. Did check your email when you woke up? What about locate the correct aisle in the grocery store? Find the right exit on your way to work? What about simply scrolling through your Facebook feed? Everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, navigating, and even taking in entertainment are made possible largely as a result of the ability to read, yet it is a skill we often take for granted.
As Frederick Douglass stated, reading is the path to freedom. Through reading and writing, we can learn and compare ideas. We are able to communicate our own thoughts, discover the thoughts of others, encounter new customs, and try new things. Reading teaches us about people and places beyond the scope of our own experiences and builds vital skills such as empathy and concentration.
Reading organizes and streamlines our lives; As a result of reading, we can decipher directions to put together furniture and read the instructions of our prescriptions. Reading allows us to make informed choices, to learn new skills, and keep in touch with loved ones. Plus, it’s fun.
Unfortunately, 1 in 7 people worldwide are cut off from these privileges because they cannot read or write. This number does not even include those living in a country in which they do not speak the language. Not only does this mean that those who cannot read are not able to do or benefit from all of the above activities, it also means they cannot inform themselves on important topics, often putting them at the mercy of those with more education.
The true cost of illiteracy is staggering. Those who cannot read or write will have difficulty finding employment, which means they will likely struggle with finances, finding adequate healthcare, and a host of other necessities. According to an article by Central Georgia Tech College, low literacy in adulthood can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States:
Voting, getting a driver’s license, or finding a good doctor all become difficult, if not impossible tasks without the ability to read and comprehend. All because of one small skill that most of us use every day without thinking.
THANKFULLY, there are those out there who are doing something to solve this problem. Individuals and organizations throughout the world have dedicated themselves to the mission of ending illiteracy and instilling mastery and a love of reading in both young and old.
There are a multitude of ways that you can join in these efforts. We have outlined a few of the larger organizations that are leading this mission below if you would like to join in their work. However, you can help improve literacy without ever spending a penny or even leaving your own city! Here’s how:
1. Read out loud: Studies show that being read to is one of the single greatest ways to build vocabulary, comprehension, and a positive association with reading. If you have someone in your life who cannot read, whether it is a child or adult, read to them. Read books, read signs, read cereal boxes, read everything! Make it a habit and demonstrate that reading isn’t a chore; it is a gateway to new worlds, skills, thoughts, and dreams.
2. Talk about what you’ve read: Just as important as the ability to read is the ability to comprehend what has been read. When you read with someone, carry it beyond the page. Restate the story in your own words and ask others to do the same. Ask questions such as: What are the motives of the characters? What would happen if the story where to continue or if a plot point were to change? What were the themes and messages to the story? Not only do these actions build comprehension skills, they build social skills such as empathy, listening, and the ability to respectfully discuss ideas.
3. Volunteer: Whether you like working with children or adults, there is sure to be an opportunity to help build literacy in your community. Check out your local Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, library, shelters, and centers for English Language Learners. Many of these organizations are in need of people to read, tutor, or even teach courses.
4. Donate: There are a multitude of organizations that collect and donate books to families in need. Organizations could include your local schools, libraries, shelters, Little Free Libraries, and hospitals. You could even leave a few books with a kind note attached for someone to find in a park!
If you would rather join in with already-established organizations, here are a few that are working hard each day to build literacy around the globe:
World Literacy Foundation- The World Literacy Foundation is working in partnership with 3,920 groups internationally across 25 countries, including Australia, UK, USA, and others in Africa and Latin America, with one common goal: to eradicate illiteracy in our lifetime. Through literacy, they aim to reduce poverty, improve health, increase employment and educational prospects, and see lives changed forever.
Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy-The mission of the Barbara Bush Foundation is to advocate for and establish literacy as a value in every home. Over the past 25 years, the Barbara Bush Foundation has sponsored 1,500 family literacy programs in 50 states for both children and adults by partnering with a network of high-performing local family literacy programs across the nation.
Book Aid- This organization is on a mission to ensure everyone has access to books that will enrich their lives and to support an environment in which "reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish". In addition to donating books to people around the globe, Book Aid runs programs that give teachers and librarians skills to support and grow the readers and reading resources in their communities.
Reading Is Fundamental- Reading is Fundamental is the nation's largest nonprofit dedicated to childhood literacy. Through literacy programs and book donations, RIF connects emerging readers, teachers, and parents with the resources they need to create a culture of literacy.
These are just a few of the many literacy programs for children and adults across the nation with which you can get involved. To find a program operating near you, click on the organization links above.
The ability to read and write can, quite literally, change someone’s life. It is knowledge, freedom, and joy. Now go read a book, because you can!!
The history of summer reading programs is long, reaching back more than 100 years. As far back as the late 1800s, librarians realized that children had less access to reading materials in the summer months and, more concerning to them at the time, the few books they were reading were often of poor quality. Today, nearly every library in the nation offers some sort of summer reading program that encourages a love of reading and incentivizes turning the pages.
There’s good reason for this too! In addition to combating what’s known as the Summer Slide (a phenomenon where children often lose skills in reading and math over the summer, sometimes as much as 30%), summer reading programs have been shown to encourage parents to be involved with their children’s reading, advance reading skills, and improve attitudes towards reading. With all of these positive benefits, it may be surprising to learn that summer reading programs have been under scrutiny since the day they were started. Not only do librarians and educators disagree on how such programs should be run, some disagree on whether or not summer reading programs should be run at all.
The Early Days
In their earliest incarnations, summer reading programs were little more than small reading clubs. Librarians selected titles, usually 10 or so, they felt children should read and gave a certificate to each child who read every book on the list. Such clubs were restricted to older children, aged 10-18. Over the next 20 years, book reports and required recitations were added to the list of activities needed to earn a certificate.
It wasn’t long before criticism of the summer reading clubs popped up. In the 1920s, some became concerned that the programs promoted rewards more than reading and stifled a love of reading for its own sake. Speaking out for the growing concern, one librarian offered this question in a summer reading editorial: “What does it profit them if they read many books and love none?”.
For the Joy of Reading
The goal of cultivating a love of reading, in addition to aptitude, began to catch on in the 1930s. While the practice was not widespread, several libraries began to allow children to select their own reading materials. Fun themes and activities such as end of summer picnics were built into programs and, in an effort to lessen competition, rewards began to be given based on personal effort and quality of books reported, rather than quantity. Another change of note is the age of program participants, which expanded to include students as young as 1st grade in some areas.
The1940s were an interesting time for summer reading programs. Not only did their spread widen, so did opinions about how they should be run. In an issue of Library Journal, two librarians offered conflicting opinions. The first stated the many values of summer reading programs, including heading off summer reading loss--one of the first mentions of something like the “Summer Slide”.
A second librarian, Pauline Ames, offered a different perspective. Not only did she feel that current summer reading programs were of poor quality and took valuable time away from the librarians’ other responsibilities, she believed they primarily rewarded good readers, who were already reading, and punished slow readers, who were already struggling. As the years went on, a middle ground was struck between these two sides. By the 1950s, libraries began to partner more closely with schools and educators to help leverage summer reading programs to boost reading skills over the summer. More room for choice in book selection also became the norm throughout the country and essay and recitation requirements fell more and more to the wayside.
Fun for All
The late 70s are well known as a time when old ways were thrown off and the world of summer reading programs was no different. Along with allowing more personal choice and widening participation ages, many libraries began to weave other activities into their summer reading programs in an effort to extend learning and take stories off the pages. Puppet shows, craft hours, and group story times are just a few examples of how librarians worked to draw reading into the everyday lives of their young patrons.
What was the response? Participation numbers leaped from 50% to 76%! In an attempt to shift focus to an enjoyment of reading, rather than competition, some libraries moved away from certificates and began entering anyone who participated in the program into weekly drawings. This is a system that continues to be followed in many libraries today.
The Digital Age
As computers and the internet became increasingly accessible, more information than ever before was placed at the fingertips of individuals. However, the question on the minds of educators, librarians, and parents was: “Will children stop reading books?”. As libraries planned for their summer reading programs in the 90s, they decided to embrace, rather than fight, the digital wave sweeping across the nation. The first shift came in the recording process. For the first time, program participants could log their reading hours on library computers, saving librarians countless hours of sorting paperwork and freeing up more time for valuable interaction with patrons.
Libraries were also able to develop websites for their programs, which helped to spread awareness and increase participation. Several websites also included book-related games and links to websites that complemented the program themes. Today, most libraries continue to embrace technology, allowing patrons to read digital books and even audiobooks for credit in the programs.
Perhaps one of the most significant changes in summer reading programs over the last 100 years is not their structure, reward system, or even activities. It is their inclusivity. The first recorded summer reading program spanned a small 9 year range. Today, most libraries open their programs to all ages, 0-100+! Parents may read to their non reading children to earn them credits in the program and parents themselves may participate. While some may argue that the focus on improving children’s reading has been lost, others could counter that it has simply been extended. After all, who has fewer opportunities or motivation to read than a busy working parent?
The Great Debate Continues?
Will the debate as to how to properly run a summer reading program ever end? Not likely. Articles continue to be written each year on the validity of summer reading programs, the pros and cons of reward systems, and whether or not the focus should be the joy of reading or the skill of reading. Though this adds friction to the library world, the positive side is that this friction spurs librarians and educators to continue working together to make reading programs the best they can possibly be.
After more than 100 years, through great social, political, and technological change, summer reading programs have endured and continue to encourage individuals of all ages, reading abilities, income levels, and interests to fall in love with book in every state in the nation and we, for one, think that is something to celebrate!
Does your local library have a summer reading program? Have you noticed it change over the years, or has your location done something particularly unique? Share your stories in the comments!
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
$1.00 is donated to charity for each book sold on this site--half to St. Jude's and the other half to PetFix Northeast Ohio.