We asked you last summer to stay tuned for big news from RIF, and we’re ready to share. Thanks to a U.S. Department of Education Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant in 2012, we began the RIF Read for Success research study to test a model aimed at reducing summer reading loss in children from economically disadvantaged communities. The results made us cheer!
Most of us cannot imagine a world without books, without bedtime stories or nursery rhymes, without that wonderful sensation of being read to or reading to others. But study after study confirms that the very memories so many of us hold dear are not typical for millions of Americans. In fact, it’s just the opposite—reading ability, reading materials, reading motivation, and subsequent achievement in school and beyond boils down to harsh economics: For children and families from impoverished communities, two out of three have no books in the home. With 16 million children living in poverty in the United States, too many young Americans are growing up without the basic tools to achieve literacy levels that provide the foundation for future success. Every day, 8,000 students drop out of high school, and nearly half of the adults in our country read at or below a basic level needed to complete everyday activities. Children who don’t learn to read well become adults who can’t read well, and who can’t fully contribute to society.
Beyond the sheer economic impact of low literacy levels, thousands of children each year are missing out on everything that comes with reading well—dreaming big, feeling confident, and achieving more.
Over the summer months, all students are at risk of losing some of what they learned during the school year. When school is in session, all children learn, even if not to the same levels; they all have access to teachers, books, and learning resources. But when school lets out for the summer, poorer children don’t have access to those resources. They don’t go on field trips to the museum or zoo; they don’t go to summer camp or the beach or the mountains; they are not likely to have the very basic materials at home that would support their learning. While they may learn as well as their peers during the school year, the amount of learning they lose over the summer can put them three years behind their peers at the end of fifth grade, and four years behind at the end of high school.
Research tells us that, on average, more than 80% of students from economically disadvantaged communities lose reading skills over the summer. In our study, while our goal was to cut that reading loss in half, to 40%, we actually saw students in our program make significant gains in reading!
Nearly half of third graders made gains! Third grade is commonly known as the time when students move from learning to read into reading to learn. This means that young readers who haven’t mastered reading by the end of third grade are increasingly likely to be lost in more difficult content and vocabulary in the years that follow, as classwork on reading and writing about friends and pets changes to complicated subjects in biology, chemistry, U.S. history, algebra. Not having the skills to rise to the challenge is a factor for many among the 8,000 high schoolers who drop out each day.
Some students also improved in science and math. Though our study did not track state tests in our 41 school systems, some schools told us that their students showed improvements in science and math assessments. When asked why, school officials said that they attributed those gains to RIF, to our lots and lots and lots of books and enrichment opportunities.
How Did We Do It?
We launched a research study in 2012 to see how schools and communities in some of the poorest, and often most rural, parts of the country could address summer learning loss. As part of the study, we distributed over 760,000 books to 33,000 children from 173 schools across 16 states. The program included science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) themed books for classrooms and media centers, as well as books for children to select and keep for themselves. We also provided training for teachers on how to use the classroom books to support their lessons, and gave special resources to parents to help them support their children at home. Finally, every school was given funds to use for further enrichment: hosting an author, bringing a traveling planetarium or zoo to the area, growing and harvesting a school garden, and other amazing projects – sometimes suggested by the students themselves! Learn more about the model here.
Access to high-quality books
Giving children access to high-quality books that they can choose on their own is a critical part of our model. Children who choose books that interest them and that are on their own level are more motivated and empowered to read and learn even more! In our study, new books in the classroom and media center collections allowed teachers to integrate and connect different topics or subject areas (like history, math, and science) through stories and wonderful illustrations and photographs suited to elementary school children. These books allowed teachers to apply the concepts that children had learned in their curriculum. For example, in one second grade classroom, students reading about Rachel Carson, the founder of the environmental movement, wondered how old she would be today. Reading a book about her sparked their curiosity and led them on a mathematical journey. That day, the students learned how to do multiple-digit subtraction, even though, as one little girl told me on my visit, “We’re not old enough to do that but we figured it out.”
Teaching through texts
Not only are the books included centered on STEAM themes, most are characterized as informational texts, supporting other school subjects like history or science, and largely non-fiction. These kinds of books set the stage for the areas of learning that students will encounter in third grade, when they switch from learning to read to reading to learn. Doing certain activities, like the ones we create for our Multicultural Book Collection each year, can extend and reinforce learning beyond the book into all kinds of subjects. Children learn by doing, and these activities provide opportunities to do just that.
Schools can use RIF Read for Success
Some schools in our program have found funding to continue the program or have looked for their own ways to extend our model as far as possible. In Pamlico County, North Carolina, for example, Superintendent Wanda Dawson enlisted the entire community to ensure every student from kindergarten to fifth grade would receive books to take home over the summer. Other schools are using Title I money to provide books for family time.
We need to do more research
While this study has shown great results, we still have questions to answer. As always, we will be digging deeper to find out more about the best ways to help children with books. And we promise we’ll keep you updated.
One last thought!
Our RIF staff, including the expert advisors and training team, all feel that some of the best work we have ever done has been in the implementation of this study. The children, families, teachers, and staff of the 173 schools have been delightful to work with and a pleasure to serve. We are so grateful that the U.S. Department of Education, through its Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant, has allowed us the wonderful opportunity to add to the body of knowledge about summer learning loss, and we all feel fortunate to have been a part of this endeavor.
Update: Thank you to everyone who shared their favorite #MacysLovesMoms photos! Because of you, Macy’s will donate $80,000 to RIF to support our mission to bring books and the joy of reading to children across the nation.
Being mom is a big job, full of tall orders and nearly impossible tasks, bath times, teddy bears, boo-boos—and beautiful, unforgettable moments.
Share Your Love, Thank A Mom. This year, join RIF and Macy’s to celebrate moms and all they do with your favorite throwback pics. From April 27 through Mother’s Day, when you share your favorite mom memories on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr using #MacysLovesMoms and #RIF, Macy’s will donate $3 for every mom moment shared, up to $400,000, to mom-approved charities like RIF. Find out more about the campaign here.
We asked RIF staff to share their best photos and mom moments, and you won’t be surprised to know our moms, aunts, and grandmas were book nerds, too. Check out our memories (and mom fashion statements) below, then share your own with #MacysLovesMoms to support RIF this Mother’s Day.
Learn about the campaign at Macys.com/MacysLovesMoms.
Meet the 2015 Anne Hazard Richardson RIF Volunteers of the Year! Every year we’re proud to honor RIF volunteers who have blown us away with their commitment to bringing the joy of reading—as well as the self-confidence that come with it—to children in their communities.
Read their full profiles in our press release.
Maira knows what RIF books can mean for children and families in her community.
“Many teaching tools use experiences of things our kids are not really familiar with, like snowboarding or skiing,” she shared. “When they saw arroz con leche in a RIF book, parents were making it at home to bring to class! It’s huge for our kids to see that other people have the exact same experiences that they do.”
The best part, she says, is seeing children select books to read to their younger siblings. “They’re becoming pioneers of literacy in their own household.”
For JJ, RIF means family. After the birth of her first child, JJ left teaching but still wanted to contribute to her community. So when her mother—a RIF volunteer at the time who still serves on the board for RIF of Northern Virginia today—suggested volunteering for the entirely volunteer-run RIF of NOVA, JJ jumped at the opportunity. But starting as newsletter editor over 20 years ago, she could not have guessed how her relationship with RIF would grow.
“It’s so special to the kids. You think they love TV and video games, but this is so important,” she says. “These kids hand it down to their siblings. Entire families have libraries because of RIF.”
Wanda knows how powerful books can be. Pamlico received its first RIF books and activities after Hurricane Irene in 2011. “It devastated the county,” Wanda says. “RIF was the perfect program because people had literally lost everything. But they had the books.”
Wanda jumped at the chance for Pamlico schools to participate in a two-year RIF research study that put new RIF books in classrooms and provided children with several books to take home and keep. Now that the study has concluded, Wanda has involved the entire community in an effort to collect books to continue to give to every k-5 student before summer break. “We have children that live 35-40 miles from the library,” she says. “It’s hard to get there over the summer, and even if you can you have to choose between using gas to go to the library or for Daddy to go to work.”
The Brooklyn Public Library has been with RIF for over 35 years. Ellen has been RIF Coordinator for Brooklyn Public Library for nearly 15 of those years. “Because we’ve had RIF for so long, we have parents who bring their kids in, and the parents were RIF kids, too,” Ellen says. “They’ll travel to find RIF.”
The Brooklyn Public Library serves the borough’s 2.5 million residents. “One of the legacies of RIF,” Ellen says, “is when we come up with new programs, we try to build in money for books that children can keep.” Currently, two additional programs include a “books for ownership” component: Ready, Set, Kindergarten!, which shows parents and caregivers what they can do to help their children’s literacy development, and Read! Write! Create!, a comic-book making workshop for children.
Celebrate with us!
The Volunteer of the Year Award winners will be recognized at our Z IS FOR MOOSE Gala in Washington, D.C. on May 19. Join us!
by Nikolas Baron at Grammarly.com
Five Ways to Make Grammar Fun for Kids
They don’t call it “grammar school” for nothing. Learning grammar—those pesky parts of speech, irregular verbs, even word order and punctuation marks—is an essential part of education.
Even though it’s a vital skill to master, it’s sometimes hard to get kids excited about learning grammar.
Grammarly has been developing good grammar-checking software for academic and professional settings. Through their research, understanding, and experience, here are our five recommendations for making grammar education a little less painful and maybe even—gasp!—fun.
Keep It Real
Bring grammar into the real world by incorporating text from magazines, blogs, popular books, graphic novels, cartoons, and even song lyrics. If examples from textbooks are often dry and out of touch with the interests and problems of modern kids, look instead to see if you can find the subject or the verb of the first line of a favorite song or tweet. How about identifying the adjectives that describe a favorite cartoon character? Use examples from graphic novels to look for differences among, say, the “its” family: it’s or its. Grammar and grammatical applications are all around us!
Play with Words
Grammar doesn’t have to be serious. Encourage your young learners to experiment with puns and other wordplay, writing their own silly stories, and playing with Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blank games. “All this is play in the sense that it is free of the burden of the reader’s final judgment, but it helps students gain fluency, flexibility, and precision,” says Brock Haussamen, author of Grammar Alive!
Try breaking grammar instruction into mini-lessons that tackle one rule at a time. We’re fond of the “Let’s eat Grandma!” meme that teaches the importance of comma placement in direct address and items in a series. The idea is to master one small grammatical point—for example, misplaced modifiers—preferably using memorable examples like this classic: “This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.” Have some fun with that one and then move on to another mini-lesson.
Make It a Game
Gamification is the technique of applying the principles that make games addictive to other activities. You can turn learning into a game by devising your own “level up” and rewards system (perhaps based on the mini-lessons above), or you can check out one of these games. Play on!
Start with the Concrete
Little children naturally progress from concrete to more abstract. When babies learn to talk, their first words are typically words they can see or do: baby, bottle, doggy, Mama, Dada. So follow this natural example from speech: start with things children can see (nouns) and do (verbs). Add from there. What colors are the things children see? How many? What kind? Those three questions produce adjectives! No need to make children cry by beginning with the differences among the two/to/too family yet. Start with the concrete and build from there to include traditional grammar as a part of learning!
What are your tips for teaching grammar to kids? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in elementary school, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at Internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.
Each year, Women’s History Month celebrates the contributions of women, weaving their stories into our nation’s history. With the books below, you can go one step further. Women across the globe have made and continue to make an incredible impact on their countries and on our world. Use the books below to introduce your girls and boys to women who defied norms to make discoveries, create art, and ultimately change the minds of people around them. These stories and others like them teach kids the value of determination and self-confidence when chasing their own dreams.
|Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee, Megan Halsey and Sean Addy (illustrators) – Your A-Z guide on female artists, explorers, inventors, and activists who made an important impact on our world.|
|Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully – Meet “the Lady Edison,” a woman who was already wearing out her toolbox with inventions at the age of twelve and went on to create and perfect the machine that makes the square-bottom paper bags still use today.|
|Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter – When Wangari discovers that many trees across Kenya have been cut down and that the soil is no longer fertile for crops, she gathers the women of her village together to bring back the beauty of their home, one seedling at a time.|
|Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty – Rosie loves inventing all kinds of machines, devices and solutions, but it can be discouraging when they don’t all work as she wishes they would! Join Rosie as she learns an important lesson from her great aunt and finds the inspiration to keep inventing.|
|Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, Julie Paschkis (illustrator) – During the Middle Ages, everyone” knew” that insects were evil and came from the dirt. But Maria wasn’t so sure. See how one girl disproved an ancient theory through her dedication and powers of observation.|
|Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin by Michelle Lord, Felicia Hoshino (illustrator) – In this beautiful work of historical fiction set in Cambodia, little Sap joins the royal dance troupe to support her family and learns that she is much more than a just a girl from a poor village.|
|Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Brian Selznick (illustrator) – Based on an actual night flight shared by Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, this story highlights the friendship and mutual respect between two powerful, independent women.|
|Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, Melissa Sweet (illustrator) – When her husband passes away during an excursion to China, Mrs. Harkness makes up her mind to continue his expedition.|
|Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina, Doug Chayka (illustrator) – Set in Bangladesh, Yasmin works hard in the brickyard to help support her family, but dreams of going to school and changing her life. Will her secret plan bring her closer to her goal?|
What better time than Valentine’s Day to talk to young ones about friendship? Each of the books below deals with different aspects of friendship and comes with activities to enhance the experience before and after reading.
If you get through the whole booklist, we have even more fun and friendly activities for you to enjoy with your Valentine this month.
|Wings by Christopher Myers – Ikarus Jackson is bullied for having wings, but one girl finds the courage to quiet the bullies and make a new friend. Dreamlike collage art brings this fresh take on a familiar schoolyard tale soaring to new heights.|
|Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, Paul O. Zelinsky (illustrator) – Moose may be a little overeager to be in the alphabet lineup, but Zebra’s forgotten to include Moose at all! Can Zebra fix this mess before the whole alphabet is ruined?|
|Owen & Mzee told by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, Peter Greste (photographer) – When a young hippo is separated from his family after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, he looks to a older tortoise for warmth and companionship. When the tortoise accepts the hippo, a true story stranger – and sweeter – than fiction unfolds.|
|One of Us by Peggy Moss, Penny Weber (illustrator) – Roberta wears her hair straight up, loves climbing the monkey bars, has a flower on her lunchbox, and wears running shoes. Will she fit in at her new school?|
|Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, Tara Calahan King (illustrator) – Dad has a secret weapon for getting rid of enemies: Enemy Pie. But one of the ingredients is spending an entire day with the enemy!|
|City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, Jon J. Muth (illustrator) – City Dog befriends Country Frog. Expressive watercolors convey the changing of the seasons of the year, as well as how the seasons of life affect relationships.|
|Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, Dan Yaccarino (illustrator) – Boy loves Bot. And Bot loves Boy. But some fundamental differences between the two cause a lot of confusion and concern! Can they find a way to still be friends?|
February is a time to remember and celebrate the black individuals and events that have helped shape our country. Make sure to look into African American History Month events at your locals museums and libraries, and check out our favorite books for the month. Each of the stories highlighted below is a true tale, or based on fact, and can be used to illustrate different points in the history of African Americans:
|Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss, Floyd Cooper (illustrator) – While Ruth’s story is fictional, The Green Book that helped a generation of African Americans navigate the Jim Crow South is a piece of our history many may not know about.|
|Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, Kadir Nelson (illustrator) – This true story focuses on one of the Underground Railroad’s most famous runaway slaves and the ingenious idea that brought him to freedom.|
|Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Frank Morrison (illustrator) – Melba Doretta Liston was a jazz virtuosa at a time when it was unlikely for a woman of any race to arrange, compose, and play music.|
|More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby, Chris K. Soentpiet (illustrator) – Young Booker T. Washington wants to learn to read, but he must spend his days laboring with his father at the salt works. How will he unlock the secrets he knows the books hold?|
|Nobody Owns the Sky by Reeve Lindbergh, Pamela Paparone (illustrator) – Daughter of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Reeve Lindbergh uses rhyme to share the story of “Brave Bessie” Coleman, the first licensed black aviatrix in the world.|
|Twice as Good by Richard Michelson, Eric Velasquez (illustrator) – William Powell was enchanted by golf from the time he was a child but wasn’t allowed to play because of the color of his skin. Find out how he makes his dream a reality.|
|Touch the Sky by Ann Malaspina, Eric Velasquez (illustrator) – Inspire young minds with the story of Alice Coachman, who went from fashioning a high jump with sticks and rags to sailing over crossbars in London to become America’s first African American Olympic gold medalist.|
|Philip Reid Saves the Statue of Freedom by Steven Sellers Lapham, Eugene Walton, R. Gregory Christie (illustrator) – Philip Reid, a skilled and enslaved African American, is the only hope when craftsmen working on the U.S. Capitol building are faced with a complicated puzzle. As he works on the Statue of Freedom, he can feel freedom just around the corner for himself and all other enslaved Americans.|
|I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer by Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator) – Matthew Henson was born to sharecropper parents, but would not settle for an ordinary life. How far would he go to defy the odds and reach the North Pole?|
We’re joining McDonald’s to kick the year off with books! From January 9-22, McDonald’s will offer one of four favorite children’s books in every Happy Meal for over 17 million books for children and families across the country. Through a new collaboration with HarperCollins Children’s Books, kids and families will be able to enjoy four classic titles. Each book comes with a fun activity designed just for this special promotion.
On top of that, McDonald’s is giving 100,000 Happy Meal books to bring the joy of reading to kids in RIF programs that don’t have easy access to books. We’re feeling pretty happy about that!
Even lunchtime can become a fun learning opportunity for young children. Our President and CEO, Carol H. Rasco explained, “we need to reach families where they are,” and McDonald’s is a comfortable atmosphere for many families. “Parents are there to talk and laugh and have fun with their children,” and this month they can do so with some our of favorite children’s books.
Here are the books that will be in Happy Meals nationwide this month:
While many of us are caught up in closing out the year, I was recently impressed by a boy who’s already looking forward to the next one. A few weeks ago, Sebastian contacted us with an idea. In January, he’ll turn six. “This year, instead of getting birthday presents,” he told us, “I want to help other kids read.”
Sebastian’s an avid reader, currently hooked on the Magic Tree House adventure series, and he wants to help us give books to the kids who need them most. He may only be five going on six, but he loves reading and knows the joy it will bring to children just like him.
For me, Sebastian’s birthday wish was a reminder that each of us has the power to make a difference. Please join me and Sebastian this holiday season by supporting RIF’s work to get books to more kids who need them.