How to create a literacy-rich environment on a budget

Northlakes Community Clinic Minong

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This waiting room has it all! Gently-used books, child-sized furniture, rain gutters for book shelves, a magazine organizer made from wire and binder clips and a Dr. Seuss quote in removable stickers.

Click here to learn how to DIY the rain gutter bookshelves.

The hanging magazine organizer DIY was made up by the clinic’s staff using picture hanging wire and binder clips. Simply measure your desired length and cut the wire and secure to wall with screws. Attach magazines using large binder clips. Simple and inexpensive!

The Dr. Seuss quote is available for $9 on Amazon .

 

All photos featured in this post, were taken at clinics around Wisconsin. If you try one of these literacy-rich projects or have other ideas, share them in the comments section below!

How to support literacy in Wisconsin

Whether you choose to support a literacy organization or donate your gently-used books, there are plenty of opportunities to promote literacy and a love of reading to last a lifetime. Check out this list for ideas to get involved in Wisconsin.

Volunteer:

  • Adult literacy: Use Wisconsin Literacy’s map to contact a program near you and become an adult literacy tutor. Tutors are needed to assist adult basic education learners, GED preparation and English language learners.
Wisconsin Literacy's regional map
Wisconsin Literacy’s regional map

 

  • Early literacy: This list can help you find a Reach Out and Read program in your county. Contact your local clinic and ask what volunteer opportunities are available.  

Volunteers can assist clinic staff with:

  • Book ordering, sorting and labeling
  • Hosting a fundraising event in your community to raise money for the clinic’s new book purchases for well-child visits ages 6 months to 5 years
  • Organizing a book drive to collect gently-used books appropriate for any age
    • Our book guidelines provide helpful tips about which types of books are acceptable
    • Collaborate with schools, churches, community groups and workplaces
  • Help create a literacy-rich environment by donating:
    • New bookcases or child-sized furniture (benches, tables, chairs)
    • A story time rug
    • Children’s or parenting magazines
    • Bulletin boards or other displays
  • Become a volunteer reader
    • Keep in mind not all clinics can accommodate volunteer readers and there may be an extensive volunteer screening process

 

  • Offer to read aloud at your child’s school or at the local library. Not only will you get to spend more quality time with them but you will also help their peers succeed too.
    Kids in library setting with books
    Volunteer with kids and help them learn important literacy skills

    Advocate for literacy:

  • Even though it may not be an election year, contacting your state and federal representative to talk about the importance of literacy is always relevant.
    • To find your representative, enter your address using this tool
    • For data specific to your county or region contact our office

Donate:

  • Looking to declutter? Give your much loved gently-used books to a friend, a child or a Little Free Library
Little Free Library near Milwaukee, WI
Little Free Library
  • If you live near Madison, WI the Madison Reading Project accepts book donations for children and teens. They share these books with non-profits, social workers, schools and shelters.

Do you support literacy in other ways? Comment below with your ideas. 

My Reach Out and Read program

Dr. Richard Strauss began the first Reach Out and Read program in Wisconsin in 1997.
Dr. Richard H. Strauss

In July 1997 the first Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin program and the 50th in the nation, was started at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center (now Gundersen Health System) in La Crosse. Nine months prior I had attended a workshop at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Boston and learned how to establish a ROR program. Dr. Perri Klass, the national medical director of ROR, showed us how to encourage literacy during well-child visits. She encouraged providers that a new, developmentally-appropriate book could be given to children along with anticipatory guidance to their parents at well child visits from 6 months through 5 years. I remember sitting in the workshop thinking, “what a terrific idea, program, mission, dream, reason to raise money, way to spend money and way to teach families the importance of books, reading and literacy.”

Fast forward 20 years and there are nearly 20 ROR sites in the La Crosse region, 200 in the state and 6,000 in the country. There are 100,000 additional books in the homes of thousands of children in the Coulee Region.

What do I like most about ROR? There are too many things to list but here are a few of my favorites: ROR has three main components, all of which take place in medical offices where children have well-child visits:

1. A literacy-rich waiting area without a TV; promotion of the public library and applications for library cards in the waiting area; and a supply of slightly used books which can be taken home

2. Developmental advice and counseling by doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants during the well-child visit

3. The gift of a new, developmentally-appropriate book to the child at well-child visits from 6 months to 5 years of age. ROR providers give up to 10 books to add or build a child’s home library. It is sad knowing those 10 books may be the only books in some households but at the same time, it can be wonderful, because 10 books are better than none, or one, or nine.

I love when a child arrives at the clinic remembering having received a customized book at their last visit (with their name and signed by their doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant) and eager for a new book.

The prescription to read 20 minutes a day has no ill effects. How many other prescriptions come without potentially bad side effects?

Early childhood brain research shows nearly 80 percent of a child’s brain infrastructure is formed during the first 36 months of life. ROR-trained doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants discuss with parents the importance of talking, singing and reading aloud with young children. The first five years of a child’s life offer a critical window for brain development, and ROR seizes that opportunity in order to promote kindergarten readiness and future academic success.

Clinics with ROR programs now touch the lives of one in five Wisconsin children younger than 6 years of age in 54 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Parents involved with ROR are 2.5 times more likely to read to their children. Children’s language development is improved by three to six months in ROR families compared to their peers who have not been involved in ROR programs, and language ability increases with exposure to ROR. What is more rewarding than that?

In summary, ROR Wisconsin gives young children and their parents a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin’s newest addition

Welcome to the newest addition to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, our new blog, “Books Build Better Brains.” Through this platform we plan to offer tips, tools and resources for anyone looking to encourage reading and early learning in our youngest children.

The tagline Books Build Better Brains was created years ago by our Medical Director, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD. We believe it is the perfect blog title because reading books aloud positively impacts everything from language and socio-emotional development and school readiness, to buffering against toxic stress and fostering healthy relationships.

While our early literacy program is implemented in primary care medical clinics (you can read more about our program here) we are excited about our ability to use this venue to expand our audience. Early literacy and learning is not limited to only one environment. Learning language and developing literacy skills, the building blocks of kindergarten readiness, can happen anywhere; during breakfast, in the car, while grocery shopping or in your doctor’s office. Our goal is to empower and support parents and families in their role as a child’s first teacher.

Our blog will provide a variety of resources, including tips for reading aloud with young children and ways to make learning fun. We will share firsthand accounts from clinics and their medical staff about why they enjoy working with Reach Out and Read. We will analyze timely research and relevant data in the fields of early brain and child development so you are equipped with knowledge to support early learning wherever and whenever you can make it happen. We look forward to introducing you to many of our partners across the state and the nation who inspire our work every day.

We love our collaboration with the Appleton Public Library and thank their physician liaison, Abbey Unruh for this book list. This list is helpful for clinics when ordering books or for families visiting their local public library. We plan on sharing other book lists like this in the future. We hope you find a title to share as a bedtime story tonight.

Favorite books to read aloud for ages birth to 5 years