Every Tuesday morning at God’s Creation Development Center in North St. Louis, the preschool rooms start buzzing in anticipation of a special visitor. Shouts of “Ms. Sally’s coming today!” quickly spread throughout the hallways and spill out onto the playground.
These young students know that when Ms. Sally steps into their classroom, their day will stop and they’ll enter a world of imagination – where animals talk, the eggs and ham are green, and kids can be anything they want to be.
As a volunteer with Ready Readers, a St. Louis nonprofit dedicated to inspiring preschoolers from low-income communities to love books, Ms. Sally spends 30 minutes each week with the kids at God’s Creation, reading books, playing games and singing songs. Six times a year, she’ll leave a special gift behind for each child – a classic children’s book, scribbled with a personal note – that they can take home to continue the adventure.
“Everybody just loves Ms. Sally,” said God’s Creation director, Regina Carter. “She has had such a big impact on our children over the past year. They are so excited when she comes, and the moment she starts reading, all eyes are on her. Regardless of a child’s behavior or attention span, they sit quietly and listen to every word she says.”
Ready Readers serves more than 10,000 children in 180 underserved preschools and daycares every week. But to serve more kids and expand its programs, this grassroots organization depends on the generosity of donors who share its loves of books.
On February 21, you can help get books in the hands of at-risk kids and enjoy an afternoon of family fun at Ready Readers’ annual Winter Story Fest. From hands-on activities to a special presentation from The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, you can help instill the love of reading in your kids and in kids throughout the region.
A teaching opportunity with every turn of the page
Ready Readers started in the garage of Pat Simons in 1999. Her husband, Dr. Paul Simons, a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, began seeing an increase in young children who were not being read to at home, simply because they had no books of their own.
That’s when Pat leapt into action, rallying her friends to participate in a book drive for local preschoolers. Today, 17 years later, more than 550 highly-trained volunteers visit schools to read, play and interact with the kids, and throughout the year, provide them with free books they can take home, from classics like Goodnight Moon to recent favorites like The Pout-Pout Fish.
“Ready Readers does more than give away free books,” said executive director Lisa Greening. “We’re a true mentoring program. Our vision is to build relationships between individuals from all areas of our community.”
Ready Readers is expanding the love of learning beyond each 30-minute session. Each book the child receives also includes a copy with extension activities for the teacher, based around Missouri early learning goals. Using the book as the foundation, teachers are equipped with engaging curriculum that also teaches math, science and social-emotional skills. In addition, teachers can participate in free professional development workshops provided by Ready Readers.
The impact of making reading fun and the joy of having books of their very own inspires these preschoolers every day. According to Carter, “Ready Readers has helped bring the love of reading home to the kids’ families. The children are so proud of their books and what they’ve learned that they’ll actually bring these same books back to Show and Tell, to talk about the stories in the book all over again. What Ready Readers does is so wonderful.”
Taking learning to the next level
Thanks to the support of the St. Louis community and its growing network of dedicated allies, Ready Readers is moving reading beyond the classroom and into the community.
Over the past few years, Ready Readers has partnered with The Magic House to create field trips based on literature. The children read a book in class, and thanks to funding from generous granters, are able to travel to The Magic House where the museum presents special activities shaped around the story. Last year, more than 5,400 kids were able to participate.
“We want to keep growing and growing these field trips,” Greening explained. “These kids need to get outside the small radius of where they live and experience the same opportunities as kids from other neighborhoods.”
In addition, Ready Readers has worked with the University City Public Library to secure library cards for preschoolers. It’s also teaming up with Beyond Housing and the Normandy School District for the “Normandy Read With Me” program to place books in locations throughout the city, such as barbershops, stores and restaurants, to encourage families to fit in reading wherever they can.
Said Greening, “We want to change our culture as a whole to make reading a choice activity we do every day. When kids are read to on a daily basis, it makes them more successful in school.”
How you can help
For the eighth year in a row, Ready Readers is giving all families the chance to help others in their community, and at the same time, enjoy a day of excitement based on books at its annual Winter Story Fest.
Held at Clayton High School on Sunday, February 21 at 2 p.m., the Winter Story Fest includes a variety of kid-friendly activities from Circus Kaput, The Magic House, The Puppet Guild of Greater Saint Louis, Mad Science, and the Saint Louis Science Center – all based around Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Face painters, magicians and clowns are also on hand to wow the little ones.
At 3:30, the clowns lead a parade into the auditorium for a special presentation of Goldilocks by The Rep’s Imaginary Theatre Company. The show is followed by an interactive Q&A and free treats from FroYo Frozen Yogurt.
“We want to build a love for stories and fairy tales among today’s kids,” said Greening. “Our goal is to make the whole experience very concrete for families with young children by connecting a story through literature, theater and hands-on activities. And at the same time, help give the same opportunity to kids throughout the St. Louis area.”
Tickets for the Winter Story Fest are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. To reserve your spot, visit www.readyreaders.org/events or call 314-564-8070.
Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL
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