“We need stories now more than ever.” – Kate Di Camillo, children’s author
“Spring IS coming!” Our hanging-on-by-our-fingernails’ mantra this second, long, cold, Covid winter has blessedly gotten us to March. It’s been two full years of “pandemic parenting/teaching” and parents and teachers are now beyond stressed and stretched far beyond anything anyone could have imagined. And, to say the least, our children are deeply feeling the scarcity of adult energy at home and at school.
One of the Covid casualties is the setback to young children’s literacy. Literacy experts say that many students have lost up to 30% of literacy gains since the pandemic began. This is especially critical for Pre-K through 3rd graders who are meant to be learning to read so they will be able to read to learn starting in 4th grade. Future school success rates drop dramatically if children are not reading on grade level by 4th grade. Right now our youngest children need more literacy support than either their parents or their teachers have left to give.
The number one skill young children need as part of their foundation for learning to read is learning to love books. Children learn to love books by being read to. It is that simple. Just before the pandemic closed everything down, Book Fairy Pantry Project was preparing to launch our new grassroots literacy boost to increase young children’s love of books. Our “100 Stories Before 1st Grade” challenge project launch was stalled by the pandemic, and now, because of the pandemic, it is needed even more than it was before. It is time for the community to step up to support parents and teachers by sharing the responsibility of educating our youth.
Just as children used to collect returnable bottles from their family members and neighbors, children participating in the “100 Stories Before 1st Grade” challenge will collect stories, either read from a book or told to them and they will ask the reader or storyteller to enter the reader/teller’s name, the date, and the title of the story in their story log. Children ask their grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, neighbors, and older classmates to read to them to help them reach their goal of 100 Stories. Even though Covid is still raging at this writing, stories can be read, told, and heard while wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart.
The project goal has now become threefold. The first is to give children the opportunity to become 100 times more prepared to learn to read. The second is to give parents and teachers a break from being all things to all their children and students by providing off-site intergenerational literacy volunteers. Third, is to give children the good feelings of self-worth that come when other people demonstrate that they care by spending one-on-one time with them.
This intergenerational approach to boosting literacy resources in our community is a win in every direction. 100 Stories was designed to include oral stories, so that all family members, regardless of which language they speak or their level of literacy can contribute. Everyone involved gets to feel valued and valuable.
Our literacy challenge can be initiated by libraries, child care centers, nursery schools, Headstart programs, PreK and kindergarten classrooms, 1st-grade classrooms, homeschooling groups, and individual families. It can also become a school-wide literacy challenge if the 2nd through 5th graders want to participate by completing a 100 Stories log of books they have read “to” younger students to help them reach 100. Imagine the thrill of having a “big kid” say to you, “May I read a book to you, so I can get my 100 stories too?”
March is National Read-Aloud Month. I can think of no easier, simpler, bigger, more fun way to boost up the sagging literacy level of so many of our young children than by initiating the 100 Stories Challenge. This is a bottom-up literacy acceleration strategy. We don’t have to wait for the powers that be to decide that it’s needed and then debate about allocating the funds to save our children’s literacy. This project is instantly available everywhere now, and it’s completely free. Any parent or teacher can just decide to do it and start today.
I have come to think of our 100 Stories Challenge as the Victory Gardens of literacy. It is something easy, yet big, that “we the people” can do. We can do it as individuals, and together to plant the seeds to grow the level of literacy that will make sure our children and our country stay strong enough to lead us out of this pandemic and into a new story and better future for ALL of our children and our country.