Read Across Iowa Celebrations to Encourage Reading with Children

February 9, 2021, 11:29 am | Constance Beecher, Sara Nelson

Read Across Iowa.AMES, Iowa – Read Across Iowa will launch March 1 and begin a month-long celebration to bring the joys of reading to kids of all ages. Agriculturally themed Read Across Iowa events will be held across the state and will feature books and materials about agriculture that will appeal to all readers.

“Starting at birth, reading to children is an investment with a life-long return,” said Constance Beecher, an associate professor of education and extension specialist at Iowa State University. “Early reading and talking with children is essential to a strong start in life.”

Research shows that one of the strongest predictors of school success is reading to children and having books in the home, Beecher said. Children who read and listen to books hear a greater variety of words - up to 50% more - leading to a better vocabulary than those who watch media. Children raised in homes with more than 500 books spent three years longer in school than children whose parents had only a few books, but even homes with 25 books have been associated with completing two more years of school than having no books in the home.

Read Across Iowa is organized as a collaborative effort between the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa 4-H Youth Development and the Iowa State Education Association.

“We chose agriculture as our theme because agriculture is essential to the economy of Iowa. Agriculture is a great way to put learning in context. Everybody eats and learning about our food system can be fun, too!” said Will Fett, executive director of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.

“It is important to help motivate our kids to read, bring the joys of reading to students of all ages, and help make all children feel valued and welcome,” said Iowa State Education Association president Mike Beranek. With this in mind, the Read Across Iowa partners created a kit with a set of fun, informational and diverse books, including “My Family's Soybean Farm,” by Katie Olthoff; “Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car,” by Peggy Thomas; “Carlos and the Cornfield,” by Jan Romero Stevens; and “Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic,” by Gennie Lo. The kit also includes read-aloud tips, parent tips and more. Up to 1,000 Iowa teachers can request a kit from the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. In addition, every ISU Extension and Outreach county office in the state will receive a kit.

Some books and materials were provided by donations and grants from Dollar General, GROWMARK, the National Education Association, Iowa State University College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development and other partners of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.

“ISU Extension and Outreach sponsored books for all county extension offices. Iowa 4-H Youth Development provided 1,000 copies of the book ‘Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car’ for the kits that teachers receive. This book highlights the important role innovation plays in helping make the world a better place and the many ways that soybeans are used,” said Sara Nelson, state STEM lead for 4-H and ISU Extension and Outreach.

“The College of Human Sciences provided 1,000 copies of the book ‘Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic’ for the teacher’s kits. This book offers a look at the importance of the soybean in Chinese culture,” Beecher said.

The text in “Carlos and the Cornfield” is shown in both English and Spanish, Beecher added.

“It is important to share diverse books about agriculture, so everyone can be included,” Beecher said.

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