Tormohlen: Encouraging kids to read — the earlier, the better | AspenTimes.com

Tormohlen: Encouraging kids to read — the earlier, the better

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest Commentary

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

Recently we've devoted this column to individuals working to effect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week we're speaking with someone from the Front Range making a statewide impact.

Jennifer Jones is the new executive director for Serve Colorado, the governor's commission on community service. She has worked for more than 14 years in Colorado's nonprofit sector, including multiple roles with AmeriCorps and, most recently, leading the Junior League of Denver.

As the leader of the Serve Colorado team, Jones is deeply involved in early literacy efforts, one of which is called One Book 4 Colorado. This year's program wrapped up on April 25.

Aspen Community Foundation: Please give us an overall description of One Book 4 Colorado and what you've been doing for the last few weeks.

Jennifer Jones: One Book 4 Colorado is a fun and important statewide initiative that gives away more than 75,000 copies of the same book to 4-year-olds in every corner of the state. We think of it as a preschool version of a community book club. The main purpose is to get young kids excited about reading and to help build a culture of family literacy in Colorado. We know that preschoolers who are read to everyday are more prepared for kindergarten, and getting free books into homes makes that easier.

The Colorado State Library, the Denver Preschool Program, the Colorado Office of Early Literacy and public and military libraries, along with foundations such as the Aspen Community Foundation, come together every year to make this project happen because we all know that getting kids reading early is critical to their success in school.

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ACF: Why focus specifically on 4-year-olds?

JJ: Educators often say that third grade is a threshold where students shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Yet studies show that around 25 percent of third-graders are reading below grade level in Colorado. Colorado Reads looks to directly address this discrepancy, and One Book 4 Colorado is an attempt to begin doing so very early on in a child's life.

ACF: Who are the children and families that will benefit most from the program?

JJ: Every child deserves to own books and every family should experience the joy of reading together. We know that when we give children books and encourage families to read together, we're creating a strong culture of literacy in Colorado. Reading also goes hand-in-hand with writing, drawing, talking and even singing, all of which help prepare kids for kindergarten.

Ultimately, it's pretty straightforward: Colorado Reads wants to see every Colorado child enjoy reading, ready to learn in kindergarten, and continuing to read at grade level throughout their academic careers, resulting in high school graduates who are ready for success.

Research shows that literacy can be a challenge for children with little to no books in the home, and this is one way to give them a jump start.

ACF: Can you share any highlights?

JJ: This is our fifth year running the program. A great thing that happens every year is that we get community leaders to record readings of the nominated books (in both English and Spanish) and encourage families to check out those books at their local library, watch the videos and then vote for their favorite. The winning book is then revealed and distributed to tens of thousands of families across the state every April.

This year's winning book, "Giraffes Can't Dance," has been a hit. After receiving the winning book, one parent said getting her daughter to read books like the OB4CO selection is a "stepping stone" in developing her love of reading, which will help the child achieve her future goals. This is exactly the kind of feedback we work so hard for.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.

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