Read Aloud Program

Life Lessons Learned From Popular Children's Books

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax is standing on a tree stump and text on the images says, “‘Mister!’ he said with a sawdusty sneeze, ‘I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.’”

An image from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax is standing on a tree stump and text on the images says, “‘Mister!’ he said with a sawdusty sneeze, ‘I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.’”

If you think back on some of your favorite books as a child, or the books you read to your own family members and loved ones, there’s likely some stories or motifs that stick out in your memory. Examples of popular themes in children’s books include not getting to bed on time and all of the chaos it can create, what eating too much food can cause, or why being nice to siblings can bring positive experiences. These subtle themes introduce new ideas to children as well as humanize lessons for them.

Some books take these lessons even further by relating them to some of the “Golden Rules” or basic social skills that children should learn when they are young. Aesop’s Fables is perhaps one of the most famous for popularizing these ideas for children, but it’s a common practice among popular contemporary children’s literature. Take a look at some of the examples below that you may have not realized subtly suggest a larger life lesson to children.

“The Rainbow Fish” by Marcus Pfister follows the story of a beautiful rainbow fish who keeps his beautiful scales to himself instead of sharing them with the other fish, leaving him with no friends. By the end of the book, the fish learns that giving the other fish some of his scales made him friends, thus embodying the “sharing is caring” motto we often teach children.

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman depicts the story of a teddy bear who goes on a hunt for his missing button that he believes he needs for any child to love him enough to buy him. After an adventure-filled and fruitless excursion for another button, a little girl buys him and loves him for his flaws. This book touches on the lesson that no one is perfect and everyone has flaws; it’s just about learning to love yourself as you are.

No children’s book list would be complete without a book from Dr. Seuss. “The Lorax”, perhaps one of his more popular and pertinent books, is a cautionary tale about treating the Earth with respect. It follows a child and his discovery to how his previously breathtaking town came to become such a desolate and destructed area. This book not only teaches children about the importance of sustainability and moderation, there’s also an overarching theme about the importance of learning from the past.

Words Alive knows that there are countless more benefits to reading aloud to children. In addition to introducing life lessons to them, reading aloud can also support their overall knowledge of books in general, cadence of reading a book, and vocabulary. If you would like to support our journey in ensuring more children are able to participate in the experience of reading aloud, you can visit our Read Aloud Program homepage here to learn more.



The Rise of Reading Aloud

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image from our Champions for Youth Read Aloud event. A group of students stare intently at a book that is being help open by a member of the PGA Wives Association.

An image from our Champions for Youth Read Aloud event. A group of students stare intently at a book that is being help open by a member of the PGA Wives Association.

Scholastic recently published their bi-annual report on reading aloud. The report focused on the prevalence of reading aloud in the home, at what age this is most common, and the implications of the study.

The Rise of Read Aloud: Summary

When the study was first conducted in 2014, the percentage of babies younger than 3 months old who were read aloud to was 30%. Four years later, this has increased to 43%. Additionally, the percentage of children younger than one year who are read to has increased from 73% to 77% in 2018. It’s noted that this study began the year that the American Academy of Pediatrics began encouraging parents to read to their children beginning at birth. Despite the possible reasons behind why there has been a rise in the number of children who are read aloud to, it is a positive trend that helps to prepare babies and young children with language skills that will be important in their lives.

When asking the parents and children about how much they enjoy the reading aloud experience, the trend is also positive, with over 80% of children and parents rating read aloud time as something they “love” or “like a lot”. Several different benefits of the read aloud experience were referenced by the survey participants, from activities such as picking out the books to the talking and laughing that the whole family gets involved in. Asking questions and making sound effects are also part of the read aloud experience that is measured in the study, as these are positive actions for both the reader and audience to participate in.

Where the Opportunities Remain

The study shows that the practice of reading aloud peaks at the age of five, lessening around the time that the child enters kindergarten and can read on their own. However, at this age there is still much to learn in terms of vocabulary, writing styles, and plot. The article points out that continuing to frequently read aloud beyond this point is a key factor in predicting whether or not children ages 6-11 will be frequent readers (which we knows leads to better educational and social outcomes).

Lower-income families with children ages eight and under read aloud less frequently; 39% of families with household incomes less than $35,000 read aloud to their children 5-7 times a week compared to 62% among families with incomes of $100,000 or more. Lower-income families with kids ages five and under are also less likely to have received information on the importance of reading aloud from birth.

At Words Alive, we understand the importance of reading aloud, and in fact have a whole program dedicated to helping children become lifelong readers by participating in engaging read aloud session with our volunteers. Also, our Family Literacy Program focuses on educating participants about why reading is an important family activity. If you would like to learn more about our programs, click here

Read Scholastic’s full study here: https://www.scholastic.com/sites/readaloud/

Words Alive Curriculum Sneak Peek!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group and Read Aloud Program have started back up for the school year! We are excited for our volunteers to get back into the classroom and engage with students while reading and talking about books together. In our curriculum for both programs, we focus on new, diverse, and relevant texts so that students can see themselves represented in popular stories.

In 1965, The Saturday Review published “The All-White World of Children’s Books” showing that only 6.7% of children’s books published in the past three years had included black characters. By 2013, the numbers had only risen slightly to 10%. More than a third of people in the United States are non-white and they deserve to see themselves represented in literature as much as anyone else. Providing students with diverse representation in books is so important in our programs and allows students to make connections between the books they read and their own lives.

Here is a sneak peek of a few of the books we’ll be reading in each program this year!

Upcoming Curriculum for our Read Aloud Program

Although children’s books are generally shorter, we want to ensure that students get the most value out of each book we bring into the classroom. Rather than reading through each book and moving quickly on to the next, our volunteers bring the book to life by asking questions before, during, and after reading aloud to encourage the students to participate. The goal is to bring enjoyment to the classroom through reading while helping children develop cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills.

For the month of October, we have a Halloween themed book titled Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween. The book includes 15 different poems describing youngster’s Halloween celebrations, accompanied by bright illustrations. While reading, our volunteers help students focus on rhyming, rhythm, and emotion. Students are also given the chance to learn about and create their own silly alliterations and share their own Halloween costumes with their peers.

An image of Giraffes Can’t Dance surrounded by children’s toys! Photo credit:  phenom_llama

An image of Giraffes Can’t Dance surrounded by children’s toys! Photo credit: phenom_llama

Another book our volunteers are looking forward to reading is Giraffes Can’t Dance. This book follows Gerald the Giraffe’s journey from a self-conscious to graceful dancer, including all of the animals and friends he meets along the way. As with most books at this level, our volunteers talk a lot about the book before reading it -- what do the students think the story will be about? Where do they think the book is set? After reading the book, some topics of discussion will be idioms included in the story as well as what lessons were learned.

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? describes Elizabeth Blackwell’s decision in the 1830s to become a doctor instead of a mother or housewife. A big focus of this book is relating it to the students own lives: what do the students want to be when they grow up? Does it remind them of any other people they know who have worked to achieve equal rights? Relating a book to our reality helps bring the book to life and can make it a more memorable activity for students.

Upcoming Curriculum for our Adolescent Book Group Program

Our ABG program serves teenagers in alternative schools who have faced extraordinary circumstances such as violence, pregnancy, and homelessness. Our trained Words Alive volunteers facilitate book discussions, writing workshops, and projects to help bring the books alive.

An image of  Turtles All the Way Down  surrounded by flowers! Photo credit:  courtneyandherbooks

An image of Turtles All the Way Down surrounded by flowers! Photo credit: courtneyandherbooks

Among the new and diverse texts we’re bring into the classroom this year is Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Positive and accurate mental health representation is still so rare in our media and this book can be highly impactful for students with any type of mental health problems. This book explores topics of friendship, mental health, and mystery as 16-year-old Aza investigates the disappearance of a billionaire The discussions around this book include some of the unique writing techniques John Green employs, as well as how mental health plays a part in the story and in real life.

An image of  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe ! Photo credit:  sarachico

An image of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe! Photo credit: sarachico

We’re also excited to introduce students to the wonderful YA coming-of-age novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This book follows two high school aged boys, Aristotle and Dante, as they struggle and come to terms with their racial and sexual identities and feelings of loneliness and anger. This book tackles a wide range of topics for students and volunteers to discuss together, and while reading students will be able to enjoy Saenz’s poetic and beautiful writing style.

Finally, a brand-new book we’ll be diving into this year is Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro. This book details Moss Jefferies’ life after his father was murdered by an Oakland police officer and how he continues to be treated like a criminal in his own school. This book touches on themes of racism, oppression, police brutality, and activism. Discussions around this book focus on problem solving, activism, and how different upbringings can affect perspective.

This sneak peek represents just a few of the books we’ll be reading and discussing with students this year. These engaging, diverse texts and topics are sure to get all of our students excited about reading and learning!

The Benefits of Discussing Books in Small Groups

By Jennifer Van Pelt

A picture of Read Aloud volunteer, Barb Takahashi, talking with Golden Hill students in her small group session.

A picture of Read Aloud volunteer, Barb Takahashi, talking with Golden Hill students in her small group session.

Words Alive runs multiple literacy programs that focus on teaching strong literacy skills and a commitment to reading to children, teens, and families. One of our most popular programs is the Read Aloud Program, which currently serves over 4,300 Southern California students that are between Preschool and 3rd grade.

We offer this program in a “small group format” to a few of our school sites, in which our trained volunteers visit the classroom for 90 minutes each week to read to the group as a whole, then split the class into groups of 3-5 students to discuss the book and do small group activities. A study from aecf.org showed that students who are unable to read proficiently by the time they leave 3rd grade are four times more likely to not receive a high school diploma. Because of their young age and the relationship between literacy and success in education, we want to provide the most benefit we can in the 90 minutes a week that our volunteers visit the classrooms by fully engaging the students. We vet and train our volunteers to ensure they understand the discussion material and have the appropriate props, stories, and photos to help bring the books to life for the students.

These volunteers are able to bring more materials to the classroom so the group discussions are able to make the connection between the book and their everyday lives. Another benefit of the program, as noticed by our volunteers, is that all children are given the opportunity to participate. In a group of 30 or more students, children don’t always have the support to get individualized attention and encouragement to speak up like they do in smaller groups. They are also given the opportunity to use the new vocabulary and read aloud, so they can have another method of internalizing the new information.

In order to measure the effectiveness of the program, Words Alive partnered with the University of San Diego’s Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research and surveyed the teachers and volunteers involved in this small group format of the Read Aloud Program. When asking them about the effectiveness of the small groups, 9 out of 10 teachers agreed that it encouraged more individual participation, helped students understand the story, and resulted in deeper discussions. Teachers also positively rated their student's reading motivation as a 4.1 on a 5 point scale after they participated in our Read Aloud Program formatted with small groups. Reading motivation is a key literacy indicator because it shows the self-confidence and desire to continue reading, which leads to more learning and practice.

In these underserved schools particularly, there is often times no guarantee that students are provided with the necessary resources and support staff to receive the individualized attention that our Read Aloud Program provides. That is why teachers and volunteers believe in the work that we do and recommend the program to other schools.

If you would like to become a volunteer in our Read Aloud Program, or any other positions at Words Alive, visit our website here to learn more.

Read Aloud Program and Wells Fargo Foundation Support

Reading aloud to young children is the most important thing we can do to help them become lifelong learners and strong readers. In our Read Aloud Program, trained volunteers read aloud each week to approximately 4,300 children from low income communities at early childhood education and Title 1 - eligible elementary school sites across San Diego.

This year our Read Aloud Program continues to grow and develop in order to meet the needs of our community. This program year, our Read Aloud Program is in 110 classrooms in 29 schools throughout San Diego County.

The Wells Fargo Foundation has given Words Alive $15,000 to sustain the work that we are doing. In addition, our partners at the Caster Center continue to help us evaluate our small group model and we hope to expand this model into more classrooms. The small group model allows the students to go deeper with the books our volunteers are reading to them in the classrooms, by providing them opportunities to analyze the text and vocabulary, look for context clues, and relate the books to topics being covered in the classroom. 

We are also expanding our Read Aloud Program into Orange County through our partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove.

We'd like to say thank you to the Wells Fargo Foundation for their support of early childhood literacy and our Read Aloud Program. We look forward to making reading matter for thousands of children this year and we could not do this without the support of our partners!

The Gift of Reading

Literacy is the foundation of our success. It allows us to learn, to teach, and to make change in the community. Our three programs tackle literacy issues among children, teens, and families, each with the shared goal of creating life-long learners. Establishing a commitment to reading gives individuals the confidence to change their communities and take charge of their life.

Our programs inspire a commitment to literacy early in life so children and teens do not remain illiterate into their adult lives. Our Read Aloud Program sends trained volunteers into elementary classrooms and engages children with stories. Teen Services ensures young adults have a space to discuss novels and can pursue higher education with our Westreich Scholarship Program. The Family Literacy Program empowers parents to make reading a priority in their home and teaches effective methods of doing so. Each of our programs aims to prevent illiteracy later in life by engaging children, teens, and families with reading early on in their development.

Words Alive is proud to offer these programs that empower participants in all stages of life. In order for us to continue giving the gift of reading, we need your generosity and support. This holiday season, when reading a card, your favorite novel, or this blog post, be thankful for the opportunities you had to become a developed reader. Help Words Alive create this same experience for others in San Diego by making a donation. Your generosity will help advocate for literacy and allow us to give the gift that keeps on giving. 

Literacy is important; it is the foundation of success in our society, and Words Alive strives to ensure we all have the same opportunities to achieve our goals.

Summer Reading Book Drive

It is Reading Awareness Month in San Diego and to help share the importance of reading, Words Alive is participating in a summer reading book drive to benefit the libraries of San Diego. 

“More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher – income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college."

Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement over the summer months. Books collected will be distributed to students by the San Diego Public Library to ensure they are able to keep up with their reading over the summer.

To announce this new endeavor, on April 19th Words Alive brought a Read Aloud Program classroom from Washington Elementary to the City Council Meeting. Our students were so excited to learn about what goes on at these meetings and shared their love of reading with the City Council. Madeline from the third grade class addressed the Council and shared, “reading is important because it lets you go places.”

In partnership with Council member Lorie Zapf, City of San Diego, United Way of San Diego County, and the San Diego County Public Library The Summer Reading Book Drive will run through May 31. We will have a collection bin here at Words Alive and keep a look out for bins at your neighborhood public library and select City Administration buildings in San Diego.

As part of our commitment to make reading matter to everyone, we want to encourage all of the work being done in San Diego that supports our mission, “to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading!”

Click HERE to view a list of all of the San Diego County Libraries and locations.