How United Way helps kids build critical reading skills

Everyone deserves access to quality education and the opportunity to reach their potential.

However, 61% of kids from low-income families do not have any books at home, according to the Literacy Project Foundation. With nearly 1 in 5 kids across the St. Louis area living in poverty, this may put many of our neighbors at a serious disadvantage for the rest of their education.

Thanks to support from United Way, Ready Readers helps preschoolers in low-income communities across the St. Louis region gain a love of learning and the crucial early literacy skills needed for academic success. Ready Readers helps build a foundation for academic success by:

  • Offering literacy workshops and training to teachers at 750 local preschool classrooms to jumpstart learning and teach kids to love reading from a young age
  • Training more than 400 volunteer readers to make weekly visits to 10,000 St. Louis area preschoolers to read aloud and engage in literacy-themed activities that build reading skills
  • Encouraging students to continue reading outside the classroom by providing books to keep, giving away more than 42,000 books so far this school year

What this support means

There’s no doubt about it: Reading gives even the youngest kids a competitive edge in the classroom.

Early literacy programs like Ready Readers help build the critical skills needed for kids to excel throughout school. With that foundation in place, they’re more likely to be reading at grade level throughout school, graduate from high school and have higher levels of employment.

Children who read or are read to will also hear more words, build empathy and practice concentration and discipline.

“When we make reading fun for kids, when they understand the joy that comes from the story, from reading, from exploring a new world, that’s something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” said Angela Sears Spittal, executive director at Ready Readers. “We know that if we can make reading fun for kids in kindergarten, their life outcomes are better, and we can help break the cycle of poverty.”

What United Way’s support means

As a United Way safety net partner, Ready Readers receives stable funding to continue to help local kids get ready for kindergarten and beyond.

This support has helped Ready Readers meet changing needs in the community, including challenges brought on by COVID-19. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Ready Readers has modified their programs to ensure they continue to engage with students virtually. This includes virtual storytimes and a pen pal program, in addition to continuing to provide books and curriculum resources to teachers.

Through the pen pal program, students work with their teachers to write letters to their volunteer reader about the books they’ve received. By communicating about a shared experience, students practice important early language skills, as well as empathy.

“There has been lots of communication and sharing,” said one volunteer pen pal. “We have communicated about the books, each other and nature. I have received priceless envelopes of pictures, drawings and thoughts from the teacher and the children.”

“The kids really enjoyed receiving their pen pal letter,” agreed a teacher participating in the program. “We have our pen pal mailbox in our writing center that the children are beginning to utilize. Thanks so much for continuing this program despite these challenging times. Our kids love these books and shared experiences.”

Ready Readers has also partnered with other United Way safety net partners to distribute even more books throughout the region this year, making a crucial difference in more children’s lives.

“We are thrilled to be part of the United Way system,” Angela added. “We believe that literacy is an important piece of breaking the cycle of poverty, but it’s only one piece. We are so grateful to be able to partner with others who are making a difference in our community.”

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James Taylor
James Taylor