Here’s a quick look at the success We Are Readers saw this summer.
We Are Readers Kits
We provided each volunteer team a kit for its Read-Aloud that contained books, an activity and a snack, chosen specially for the day’s theme. Every Read-Aloud at every site had a designated bag, which provided support to both summer-only volunteers and regular Read-Aloud volunteers.
All the We Are Readers Read-Alouds this summer revolved around a unified theme: superheroes! We kicked off the first week with the subtheme “Be your own superhero.” Volunteers encouraged the kids to reflect and consider what their superpowers are because not all superheroes have the same powers.
We reinforced the kids' superhero identities (and tracked attendance) by asking the kids to create a superhero poster that included their superhero name, picture and a description of their super-selves and powers. The kids placed a sticker on the corresponding date on the poster to track their attendance. We also gave every child a charm necklace for which they received a new charm every day they were present.The kids enjoyed both the posters and the necklaces. The Polaroid "instant cameras" used to take their pictures intrigued them, too!
After working through the concept of “be your own superhero,” we introduced kids to more superheroes and super things during weeks two through six: superheroes of the community, superheroes of the animal kingdom, super-foods, super-STEM and super-authors.
Because We Are Readers lasts six weeks and we used six subthemes, we spent a week (two Read-Alouds) exploring each theme. This is twice as much time as kids usually spend exploring a theme in our program, and we found that the kids were very engaged, asking questions and discussing the new ideas presented in the Read-Alouds.
For example, I led a Read-Aloud about super-foods during the third week of We Are Readers at Sullivan House. There are tons of interesting books about food, of course, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Stone Soup, which we took advantage of before our activity. A local bakery, Village Sweet, provided “super-food muffins” (made with zucchini, carrot and currants) for the kids to try, and they loved them! Trying the muffins and other super-foods provided by our volunteers sparked a conversation about which foods they had and had not tried, and they started to make a game of it.
Since the kids expressed an interest in discussing all the foods they knew, we stopped and read Eating the Alphabet together, which is basically about a ton of fruits and vegetables from A to Z. They really enjoyed thinking of the fruits and vegetables not shown in the book, and it helped them learn a lot about each other’s cultures and backgrounds through food.
Using a more unified theme structure this year worked exceptionally well. It allowed the kids to get more immersed in the subject matter than in previous years, when the themes rotated more quickly and were less woven into the overall structure. For instance, connecting the subtheme of super-foods to the overall theme of being your own superhero made it easier for the kids to establish a good background knowledge of healthy foods and how they can help kids' development into super-people.
To help drive home the ideas from our theme, we invited several special guests to speak during We Are Readers. One set of special guests was Zach and Bentley (pictured on the right), who visited the kids at ARHA during the “superheroes of the animal kingdom” week. From the age of five, Zach has suffered from serious seizures that can be harmful to his health. To help manage the seizures, Zach got a service dog, Bentley, who can help alert Zach when he’s about to experience a seizure. Zach and his mom, Mary, were kind enough to bring Bentley to ARHA and talk to the kids about service animals. Bentley was kind enough to let everyone pet him!
The kids at New Hope Housing got a special visit from Mr. Berman, a chemist, during super-STEM week. He taught the kids about how light and light waves work, and they thought it was super cool – as you can see.
Firefighter Mike Kelly, a superhero of the community from the Bethesda Fire Department, was kind enough to visit our kids at Greentree Shelter, showing them his firefighting gear and letting the kids try it on. Zookeeper Becky Malinsky from the National Zoo visited our kids at Sullivan House to talk to them about superheroes of the animal kingdom. The Reading Connection staff, volunteers and kids really appreciate all of our special guests!
We Are Readers made an impact in the lives of 114 children and provided them with over 500 books this summer, and we couldn’t have done it without our many wonderful volunteers – thank you! We’d also like to thank the “behind the scenes” volunteers who provided materials for various activities, such as the superhero cape materials provided by Susan Kelly for the kids at New Hope Housing.
This post was written by Zach Griffin, TRC's AmeriCorps VISTA dedicated to the We Are Readers Program.