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A Public Information Campaign for Read-Aloud

ShareAStoryLogo-color At the end of January, I wrote a post in which I asked: "What do you all say to the idea of some sort of international campaign to encourage reading aloud to kids?" That post generated tons of interesting discussion, both in the comments and on other blogs. The enthusiasm of the resulting discussion helped to inspire this week's Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour (lovely logo to the left designed by Elizabeth O. Dulemba).

Share a Story - Shape a Future covers a broad spectrum of ways to share the joy of reading with children. All week long, participating blogs will share practical ideas for reading aloud, selecting books, using libraries as a resource, and using audiobooks and ebooks, among other related topics. I'm looking forward to reading those posts and participating in the discussions. 

But I'd also like to take a step back to discuss again the idea of an international campaign to encouraging reading aloud with kids. Or, more specifically, a public information campaign about the importance of read-aloud. Something akin to the "back to sleep" campaign, which educated people about the safety benefits of putting babies to sleep on their backs. I first heard this idea (of having a public information campaign) from Read-Aloud Handbook author Jim Trelease, in a talk that he held at the Santa Clara City Library. My imagination remains captured by the idea. A number of commenters on my original post supported this idea, too (like Karen, MotherReaderCari, Francie Dillon, Jennifer from Snapshot, Marjorie from PaperTigers, Cheryl Rainfield, TeacherNinja, and KBookwoman, to name a few). Today, I'd like to explore this idea in a bit more detail.

For the record, I think that reading aloud with children is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. The real goal is to help raise children who enjoy reading. Because if they enjoy reading, they'll spend more time at it, and a host of other benefits will follow. Share a Story - Shape a Future will be addressing a number of other way to work towards the goal of raising readers, in addition to read-aloud. Having books in the home, modeling reading behavior, letting kids read books that excite them, making time for reading despite busy schedules -- all of these things are essential, too.

But here's the thing. If you're going to have a public information campaign to get the word out about something, the message needs to be something straightforward and easy to follow. Just saying "try to raise kids who love reading" isn't enough. It doesn't give people help with how to DO that. Telling parents and teachers and school administrators that reading aloud with kids offers benefits to last a lifetime, in contrast, is pretty concrete. And I think that if more people did read aloud with kids (using the broadest possible definition of "read aloud WITH", to include audiobooks, the child doing the reading, etc.), tremendous benefits would follow.

In a recent address to Congress, President Obama said (emphasis mine -- Matt Ferraguto from Reach Out and Read sent me the quote):

"In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child."

I found this very encouraging, as did, I'm sure, many of you. But that was one mention buried in the middle of one speech. Those of us who were looking for it were heartened by it. But as a message, I think that it deserves more attention than a busy President can give to any one issue. I also got a comment, back on my original post about the campaign for read-aloud, in which Mimsy said:

"I think what is needed is to get someone prominent on board who will make this a priority, say Michelle Obama. If Oprah had a show with her and Jim Trelease I think you'd see results the next day, especially if Mrs. Obama took up the cause and kept it constantly in the media. If a respected educational group contacted her proposing this maybe something wonderful could happen. The follow up would be TV spots, and not just on PBS, showing the rock stars and wrestlers reading to their children. We do what we find pleasurable. What is needed is to get people to try it so that with luck they will find they enjoy it."

Some of the other commenters mentioned above said similar things, but I thought that Mimsy summarized one potential action plan quite concisely. So here are my questions for you:


  1. Do you think that a public information campaign about the importance of read-aloud makes sense?
  2. If so, who would you suggest as a prominent spokesperson to bring attention to this cause?

There are lots of other implementation issues, of course. As Becky Levine pointed out: "The biggest question... is WHERE do you take this message/slogan/education--to reach the families/kids who aren't in school yet (which is when they need to be caught) and who aren't already going to the libraries." Susan from Chicken Spaghetti echoed this message. As Janice Robertson, Elaine Magliaro, Cari from Book Scoops, and Amy from My Friend Amy all pointed out, there's the need to help people who get the importance of read-aloud, but don't feel comfortable doing it. And as Liz in Ink, Tif, and Janelle suggested, getting more doctors and day care providers on board would help. And yes, there are many other aspects of raising readers to be addressed, too.

But, for today, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on whether this public information campaign approach makes sense in general, and if so, who would be the perfect spokesperson to advocate for reading aloud with kids.

Sue_steph1Please do check out the rest of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour this week! It's going to be amazing! (Image to the left created by Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook, who is hosting Day 3, Read Aloud Day. Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub, founder of the literacy blog tour, helped me in brainstorming ideas for this post.)

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.