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I’m a part of the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers (join us if you’re local!) and this month is the first month we are taking part in #NWArkCares, an initiative to have bloggers give a voice to important causes. This month it’s literacy, which you probably know is a great one for me.
We are readers in this family. Pretty much every quiet moment is quickly filled with “mom, can you read me something?” or the girl flipping through a book on her own. She often wants to read first thing in the morning, before school, during dinner, after dinner, before bed. She keeps a book under her pillow in case she wakes up in the night.
I know that her being surrounded by books has helped her to be one of the best readers in her kindergarten class, and I also know that not every kid gets that kind of time and attention from their parents.
And of course literacy is not just for kids. The National Institute for Literacy estimates that 20 percent of adults in Arkansas are functionally illiterate, which is more than 500,000 people. Nationwide, 42 million adults can’t read at all, and 70 percent of those in prison are classified as illiterate.
It can seem like too big of a problem for us to solve, but doing what we can where we are is so important.
With that in mind, here’s a list of five things anyone can do, wherever they are, to encourage and improve literacy, among kids and adults alike.
Support Little Free Libraries
I love the Little Free Library concept. People set up little boxes outside their homes where people can take a book and leave a book they’re finished with. There’s already one in my neighborhood and we live in an awkward place for people to stop or I would probably have one.
We leave kids’ books pretty often — Little Free Libraries seem to be in chronic need of kids’ books — but leaving any book is helpful to encourage more reading in your community.
You can find Little Free Libraries where you live by searching their website, or just be on the lookout when you’re out and about (the one in my neighborhood isn’t actually on the list). And if you can’t find one locally, consider building your own!
Use and Support the Public Library
Of course a Little Free Library is no substitute for going to the actual library. We have an amazing one here in Fayetteville, with great kids’ and teens’ libraries, tons of books, lots of activities always going on and a great cafe, which we love.
We try to go at least once a week, and the girl usually is close to the limit on how many books you can check out. Honestly we don’t always read all of them, but being surrounded by a great number of books is fun (and knowing they aren’t actually all ours is great, too).
I consider the great number of late fees we pay to be a donation to the library, but you can also give real monetary donations and support the library through fundraisers (our has a twice-a-year book sale that just happened; you can score lots of books for cheap and help the library at the same time). I also donate almost literally tons (definitely hundreds each year) of books to the library, which they can put into circulation or sell in their bookstore.
Read to Someone
If you have a child or know a child, this is an easy one. Take the time to read to the children in your life.
Read whatever they are interested in, for as long as they want. Ask questions and talk about what you’re reading.
Make it interesting and fun for them, and try not to sound bored even when you’re on the sixth book of the afternoon (it’s really hard sometimes, but try).
If you don’t know any kids, there are tons of places you can volunteer to read or help others learn to read, but that’s really another point below.
Give Books as Gifts
My grandmother had a tradition of always buying a book for everyone at every holiday. I used to do it, too, but I’ve stopped because really we have a lot of books, but I love the idea.
I’m always excited when the girl gets books for gifts because they’re often books the recipient really loves, and it’s great to get presents that aren’t toys. Frankly, we get more use out of books anyway.
Volunteer and/or Give to Support Literacy
In addition to donating or volunteering at your local library, there are likely other agencies that promote literacy where you live that are always looking for volunteers or help in their cause.
In Northwest Arkansas, we have the Literacy Council of Benton County, Ozark Literacy Council and the Northwest Arkansas Reading Council that have worked for years to promote literacy and teach people to read. It’s an essential skill that far too many people lack, but we can all be a part of the solution.
What do you do to encourage reading and literacy, within your family or elsewhere? I’d love to hear your thoughts.