RSVP literacy programs need volunteers

There are few things that excite a young child as much as storytime. It’s their chance to be transported into an action-packed adventure or a fairy-tale land. And best of all, they are discovering the magic of reading and words and possibilities.

The research is clear: “Reading to young children promotes language acquisition and is linked with literacy development and, later on, with achievement in reading comprehension and overall success in school” (“Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics: www.childstats.gov.”).

If you’re an adult who may be in need of your own adventure, why not volunteer as a Family Literacy volunteer with RSVP of Montgomery County. You would be assigned a group of preschoolers at a local Head Start classroom and have the incredible opportunity to expose students to the wonderful world of reading — and quite possibly change the course of a young person’s life.

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“A typical middle class child enters first grade with approximately 1,000 hours of being read to, while the corresponding child from a low-income family averages just 25 hours” (M. Adams, “Beginning to Read. (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1990).”).

This discrepancy is significant as an indicator of the student’s readiness for learning as they enter kindergarten and may even influence learning well into higher grades.

RSVP’s Family Literacy program works directly with CDI Head Start serving Montgomery County in several ways.

· Volunteers read to preschoolers during class time at various Head Start classroom locations

· Volunteers lead parent workshops which are held to support and encourage reading time at home

· Lucky the Dalmation serves as the program’s mascot

· Festively wrapped gift books are given to all 540 countywide preschoolers six times each year, helping to build a home library for the students.

“We know that by providing our preschoolers with gift books, often the only books they own, it is more likely they will be read to at home by the parent,” relays Janis Glusman, RSVP’s Literacy coordinator.

“We are always in need of new picture books for the Head Start students, especially during the summer months when we send the children home with a tote bag full of summer reading picture books. Our goal is to take a small step toward changing this bleak statistic.”

The statistic Glusman refers to is that 60 percent of the kindergartners in neighborhoods where children did poorly in school did not own a single book (“The Patterns of Book Ownership and Reading,” D. Feitelson and Z. Goldstein, 1986).

Several RSVP volunteers march off to preschool every week to read to eager students. Joe has been a volunteer since November 2013. He arrives at 9:30 a.m. and reads to two classrooms of children.

“I know they are paying attention when they are able to answer questions about the story or they bring up their own experiences related to the story,” says Joe. “I have noticed that the Spanish-speaking students are getting more involved and I can see their English improving. I want the kids to see that books are fun. I am really enjoying my experience. I leave the group with a smile on my face and feeling that it’s time well spent.”

Based on research cited earlier, a key component to the success of the Family Literacy program is encouraging the parent(s) to read to their child at home, to make reading and story time an important part of each eavening.

Helene and Madelon are a team of volunteers who happen to also be reading specialists. Both are former teachers specializing in reading and literacy. Together they are conducting parent reading workshops.

Madelon feels that making the parent workshops as interactive as possible provides the most success.

“We might start by suggesting a closer look at a reading skill — maybe comprehension and prediction,” Madelon explains. “We would show a book and ask the parents to predict what it’s about and what might happen by looking at the pictures or taking a preview of the book before reading it. Parents can then utilize this skill to help their children anticipate what might come next in a story.

“Our biggest challenge, and also the most rewarding, was a classroom where many of the parents didn’t speak English and the translator never showed up. We were able to communicate well enough with the aprents and it was clear that these parents were so eager to provide their children with a better life; they realized that reading is an essential part of that.”

“Making reading together a family activity,” Helene says. “We discuss the importance of visiting the library and giving books as presents for birthdays and holidays. We especially encourage parents to take books wherever they go — on a bus, in a car, in a waiting room. And we always encourage parents to limit TV time.”

RSVP would like to receive donations of new or very gently used picture books to prepare the summer reading bags for the preschoolers.

Several local corporations have partnered with RSVP to help purchase and prepare the books for the students.

“We create a fun day for employees to design special bookmarks for the books, create book-themed tote bags and even festively wrap the books in the comic sections of the newspaper,” Glusman says. “Who doesn’t love opening a present?”

To learn more about the program, please contact Janis Glusman, RSVP Literacy Coordinator, at janisg@rsvpmc.org or (610) 834-1040, ext. 16. Volunteers are needed in the Spring-Ford area.