Encouraging your child to read

Encouraging your child to read
Source: Sara Olsher

Every night after my daughter and I climb into bed, she picks three books for me to read to her. In the morning, the first thing she does after she opens her eyes is reach for a book to “read” out loud.

Children have a natural curiosity for reading that amazes me. My daughter has gone from literally eating her books at 6 months old to reciting them from memory at 2 years old. She has a veritable library full of board books to choose from, and at the end of most days, they’re scattered all over the living room.

How does the average parent encourage literacy?

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing when it comes to teaching my daughter (Charlie) to read. We sing the ABC song and we read aloud every day—but is that enough?

The nonprofit Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is an amazing resource for learning more about literacy and teaching your child to read. As it turns out, a big part of early reading is simply learning the joy of storytelling—which means I’m doing all right so far. In addition to reading books, you might try singing, finger plays (like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot”), and nursery rhymes, which are great ways to get small children excited. Toddlers who love for someone to read to them often begin “pre-reading,” which is what Charlie is doing when she tries to recite her books from memory. This is the first step toward literacy.

Reading books out loud helps children understand that letters have meaning, and you can emphasize this by teaching them the ABC song, making letters out of pipe cleaners, letting them play with flash cards, or shaping letters out of play doh. You don’t need to drill your two year-old with flash cards, though—simply making the commitment to read to them every day is the most important thing you can do.

Toddler enjoying books
Source: Sara Olsher

For older children, the goal is to learn to read fluently, not to read every word. This means resisting the urge to jump in every time they skip a word or miss a sound. If your child understands what he or she is reading—that is, the meaning behind the story—they’re on the path to a lifetime of reading. Not sure? Ask detailed questions about the book to encourage comprehension.

Ultimately, children learn by example, so pick up a book and read with your little one. If you enjoy reading, it’s likely your child will want to try it, too.

For fun resources, check out RIF’s Learning to Read section (which is also available in Spanish).  I am madly in love with their “finger plays” page, which teaches all the hand gestures to popular rhymes like Pat-a-Cake.

What about kids who don’t have these resources?

RIF, sharing books with children
Source: RIF

Unfortunately, not every child has a parent with the ability to encourage reading. Did you know that two-thirds of America’s children living in poverty have NO books at home?By the fourth grade, an astonishing forty percent of children do not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency. According to RIF, African American and Hispanic students are, on average, nearly three academic years behind their White peers at this age.

It’s clear that having access to books at home is key for helping children learn to read: fourth graders who reported having 25+ books at home had higher scores on reading tests than children who didn’t have that many books (NCES, 2003).

Organizations like RIF are working to encourage literacy for all children. In addition to the awesome resources I listed above, they have a variety of programs aimed at helping children who don’t have easy access to books. One of their programs is called Books for Ownership, which distributes 15 million new, free books to 4 million children in all US states and territories. Two other programs, Care to Read and Family of Readers, empower childcare staff and parents with the resources they need to encourage reading.

Motivated to help? I am super inspired by Reading is Fundamental (their bumper sticker is now on my car), and I encourage you to support this amazing organization with your donation:

For just $10, you can provide 4 books for children in need.


For 20 more charities providing valuable educational and reading resources, check out the JustGive Guide. And you could be the difference in a child’s life!

Thank you very much to Margaret Carter and Samantha Louk from Reading is Fundamental for the images and statistics about this important topic.

—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager

Rock, Paper, Success

“We’re like WD-40 for enhancing school climate. We come in, we make things go a little easier, and it makes it that much easier for teachers to be really good at their jobs.”
Playworks founder Jill Vialet, ABC News Nightline, May 10, 2010

There’s anticipation in the air. The neighborhood kids sense it coming. It’s back-to-school time, and judging from the commercials running now, there’s no way to avoid it. But the schools that kids are going back to aren’t like the ones I remember.

Today’s kids spend more of their time in a classroom and less time playing—12 hours less per week in free time since the 1970s—according to a recent study. With the advent of No Child Left Behind, even the time spent in the classroom is much less playful than it used to be, as schools focus more closely on testing requirements. Our kids aren’t learning how to play, and, as research shows, it’s affecting their ability to learn.

Enter Playworks.

Changing the Culture of Education

Playworks is one of my favorite big new ideas in education. The team at Playworks brings safe, healthy and inclusive recess to schools. Their coaches provide full-time, on-site program coordination to 170 schools in 10 cities across the nation. That’s more than 70,000 students at low-income, urban schools who have a chance to engage in play every school day.

ABC News: Click here to see a video of the man who rehabilitated children at recess through 'rock-paper-scissors'

What makes Playworks so great is that they help kids create their own games and solve their own problems using such tools as Rock, Paper, Scissors. Kids who participate in unsupervised play are able to explore their imaginations, connect with other people, and grow physically, emotionally and socially. Quality recess and play help children return to the classroom more focused and ready to learn.

As I think about kids heading back to school, quality recess and educational outcomes are something I can get behind. If it’s something you’d like to support, donate now to Playworks. Visit the JustGive Guide for other organizations providing quality education enrichment programs. Or search by zip code to find and give to your schools in your area.

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Back to School

It’s that time of the year again! Kids are getting ready to meet new teachers, and make new friends. Parents are stocking up on sharpened pencils, new notebooks and more. Teachers are setting up their classrooms—often spending their own money for what they need.

Teacher and Sudents

Education not only shapes a child’s future—but the future of our workforce and society. During times when  school budgets are stretched and funding is cut, there are several everyday ways you can help your local schools:

Cash for Cans

As long as I can remember, my family recycled aluminum cans. We collected cans in a bin in the garage. Each month we turned them in at the recycling center, using the money to buy ice cream on the way home. It was a fun family tradition my Grandparents eventually brought to our schools. We coordinated with teachers to put bins in the classrooms. Once a month we recycled the cans and gave the money to the school. It’s a simple way to raise money for your child’s school and help the environment!

News for Schools

When you go on vacation, donate your regular newspaper to a local school. Teachers use the papers for in-class education and to promote literacy. If you live in the California Bay Area, you can set up a donation by calling 1-866-444-READ. Find out more at NewsSchool. Or contact your local paper to ask about similar programs in your area.

Nominate a Great Teacher

Visit ExpoEducator and nominate your child’s inspiring teacher! Through the program, ten teachers will win a year’s supply of Expo products for the classroom. The Grand Prize is $5,000 and a trip to an NBC late night show in New York or Los Angeles. The site also features an Expo coupon for markers (you can give this to a teacher too) and a checklist for back to school items.

Make Your Donation Dollars Count

  • A $30 donation to World Vision supplies a schoolchild in the U.S. with a backpack filled with pencils, paper and art materials
  • A $50 donation to Teach for America provides Summer Institute training materials and professional development for a new teacher. For $75, learning materials are supplied to a teacher in an under-resourced community.

Pass this on and get your friends, family members and colleagues who care about education involved!

Give the gift that will outlast sharpened pencils and this year’s fashions.

It’s that time of the year again – one last BBQ in the park, one last sandcastle the sea will wash away, one last s’mores by the campfire. Years after the exams are graded and the jeans are outgrown, education is a lasting gift we can give all children, to make a difference in their lives, the community, and the world.

The education we give our kids today directly impacts the quality of every aspect of our daily lives – doctors to find a cure for cancer, teachers to inspire future generations, politicians to create social change, entrepreneurs to develop new businesses. Even if you don’t have children, the education of the younger generation impacts us all.

JustGive is proud to partner with corporations that give back in a big way

Our corporate sponsor, Oracle is working with CARE to help disadvantaged children in Guatemala and India overcome barriers to education. The program is giving students-who might otherwise remain unschooled-access to math, science and technology lessons, as well as helping them build knowledge, confidence and self-esteem. Oracle’s $1 million gift, combined with CARE’s expertise in education and vast knowledge of local economic and cultural realities, is enabling nearly 20,000 children from these two countries to better their lives and the communities in which they live.

Need another reason to be inspired?

He put his hands on Haji Ali’s shoulders, as the old man had done to him dozens of times since they’d shared their first cup of tea. “I’m going to build you a school,” he said, not yet realizing that with those words, the path of his life had just detoured down another trail. “I will build a school,” Mortenson said. “I promise.”

If you keep up with the New York Times best sellers, you might recognize this excerpt from Three Cups of Tea, an inspirational book by Greg Mortenson. Dedicated to promoting community-based education, especially for girls in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Greg founded the Central Asia Institute. Before a project starts, the community matches Central Asia Institute project funds with equal amounts of local resources and labor. Such commitment ensures the project’s viability and long term success.

Members of a Bay Area book club, the “Blue Stalkings,” were so inspired after reading Three Cups of Tea; they plan to give the gift of charity to further Mortensen’s work this holiday instead of exchanging gifts with each other.

Ready to make a difference in a child’s life to ensure the well-being of yours?

Little changes can make a big difference. By making dinner at home instead of eating out one night a week, you can save $50 a month. Turn that savings into a $50 monthly recurring donation to your local PTA or an organization like Donors Choose.

Your weekly spaghetti night makes a difference to children that will change the world.

Interested in supporting libraries or special education? You can find a complete list of charities focused on Education in the JustGive Guide.

Want to spread the word? Tell a friend.