Tis’ the season to talk about all the good things in this world. This holiday season I want to pay homage to Ready Readers, a St. Louis nonprofit whose mission is to inspire “preschool-age children from low-income communities to become readers by reading aloud to them, increasing their exposure to quality books, and providing literacy-related experiences.”

For the past 7 years I have been working with Ready Readers as a volunteer Children's Literacyreader. Each week my reading partner, Kerry, and I visit Ms. Cannon’s Pre-K classroom in the St. Louis Public School District and read two or three picture books aloud. This experience has changed my life in ways that are deep and satisfying. I live in the community I read in, so this gives me a unique connection with the children I read to and their families. As their neighbor, I feel I have greater awareness about, and empathy for, some of the struggles they face. But more than that, I feel lucky to work with these youngsters through Ready Readers and have great hope for the future because of them. I share my experience in the hopes that the mission of this great organization will grow and thrive.

A Typical Day in My Ready Readers Classroom

Let me first describe a typical visit to my Ready Readers classroom. Prior to reading, we always sing a few sing-along-songs from The Neighborhood Sing-Along by Nina Crews. This is great because we get to cover classic songs and nursery rhymes that every child should know. This is the literature that connects students to each other and to other generations. Once we are finished with our song, we recite a specific poem that signifies we are about to start and that everyone is ready to listen: “I reach my hands up to the sky, until they almost reach the sky. I lay them in my lap you see, and know I’m quiet as can be.” Now, we’re ready to read.

During my most recent visit, I read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, I Want My Hat Back and The Three Bears. We had a blast with these three books (all three featuring bears). Students caught on to the repeated lines in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and The Three Bears, so by the end we were reading it together. Jon Klassen’s I Want my Hat Back sparked a deeper conversation. In the story, a large bear begins the story by saying he can’t find his hat and that he wants it back. The bear then meets a series of animals. He asks each one if they’ve seen his hat. In the middle of the book, the bear realized that he has seen his hat on the head of one of the animals he met earlier. A few students picked up on the fact that the bunny near the beginning of the story was wearing a red hat, offering me a good opportunity to go back to that page and talk about how words and pictures tell the story. In the second half of the book, there is a spread showing the bear running past all of the animals he has encountered. Here, we summarized the interactions the bear had with each animal. This offered a great opportunity to talk about how good readers think about what’s already happened in the story while they’re reading.

The Neigborhood Sing-Along - Nina Crews We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen and Helen Oxbury I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen The Three Bears - Paul Galdone

Ready Readers Supports Their Volunteers

Ready Readers provides in-depth trainings and additional title resources to help volunteer readers create impactful read-aloud experiences. Thanks to their resources and support, I feel more comfortable facilitating class activities and discussions. Check out some of their amazing literacy resources for volunteers, educators and family members.

Sending Books Home with Students

My favorite visits are the ones where I get to give out free books to the students. Yes, I said free books! One of Ready Reader’s goals is to send each student home with at least six new, high-quality titles throughout the school year. I cannot describe the excitement I get to witness when I hand out books. Kids cannot believe that the book I just shared is going to be theirs to keeChildren Reading Books in Classroomp. By giving out free books, Ready Readers aims to support literacy in the community by giving students books they can read at home, over and over again with family.

Thank You, Ready Readers

This holiday season, I want to recognize an organization that does so much. With Ready Readers’ support, I have made a connection with my community that would not have happened otherwise. The experience has profoundly changed the way I see and interact with my community, and I feel very fortunate. I get to share my love of reading with kids, witnessing firsthand the smiles and special moments children have when they encounter books. Thank you for spreading the literacy love throughout my city!

To get involved or to learn more about this amazing organization, check out http://readyreaders.org/.