Raising a Reader

Social Capitalists

Raising a Reader

Menlo Park, California

Executive director: Carol Gray

What it does: By the start of first grade, middle-income children have spent an average of 1,700 hours reading; for low-income kids, the average is just 25 hours. Raising a Reader aims to change that. It sends children home with bags of new books, nurturing a steady reading routine. It also holds community "read aloud" programs to train low-literacy parents how to "read pictures" to their children.

Results: In 27 states and 4 countries, Raising a Reader served 57,000 children in 2005. In San Francisco, it has documented a 69% increase in children's prereading scores.

Social impact: B+
Aspiration and growth: B+
Entrepreneurship: B+
Innovation: B
Sustainability: A-

Winner's Statement

The Need: Educational inequity begins early in our country. Although sharing books is frequently cited as "the single most important thing" that parents can do for their children to prepare them for kindergarten, the average economically-disadvantaged child only gets 25 hours of read-aloud experience by the time they reach kindergarten, compared to an average of 1700 hours for children in middle-income families.

The Mission: Raising A Reader (RAR) seeks to foster healthy brain development, parent-child bonding, and early literacy skills by engaging parents in a routine of daily "book cuddling" with their children from birth to age five.

RAR has developed a robust, five-part research-based methodology that triggers parent-child storytelling routines in the most at-risk families. The program is operated through a national network of affiliates, including early childhood organizations, health department home-visiting programs and adult education classes.

How it Works: Affiliates are trained and purchase a set of red bookbags for each program setting. Each week, a Raising a Reader child receives a different bookbag filled with award-winning, age-appropriate books. The child drives the "read-aloud" process by falling in love with the red bookbag and begging his parents to share the new books inside each week. Parents are trained to "read the pictures" and draw upon storytelling traditions as ancient as mankind. Program providers join together in a local movement, generating enthusiasm for the weekly bookbag rotation that catalyzes family read-aloud behavior. And through a strong library partnership, families are introduced to a lifelong source of books that reflect America's cultural and language diversity.

An Innovative Model: Raising A Reader has established a robust nonprofit business model born from the principles of venture philanthropy. Piloted at the Center for Venture Philanthropy of Peninsula Community Foundation (PCF), RAR incorporated in 2001 as a supporting organization of PCF, drawing upon Foundation resources to export the program across the nation. To date, RAR has reached 185,000 children across 80 communities, 28 states and 4 countries.

Below are the model's unique characteristics:

Engaging Parents: Most low-income parents know that reading aloud with their children is important, yet the majority do not engage in "read-aloud". RAR draws on the natural strengths of these at-risk families and shows them how to overcome their barriers to "read-aloud". Any parent can do RAR--even parents with limited literacy or English skills.

Multicultural: Raising A Reader is designed for culturally-diverse families with the parent video in 11 languages and book sets tailored to demographics.

Cost-effective: As the program has grown nationwide, Raising A Reader has been able to realize significant economies of scale, bringing the materials cost to less than $35 per child served over a five-year period.

Proven Results: Ten independent evaluations have demonstrated effectiveness in changing parent behaviors and developing the early literacy skills critical for kindergarten success. In San Francisco, there was a fivefold increase in the percentage of Raising A Reader parents reading to their children. Head Start children scored 69% higher than the national norm for pre-reading on a national test of kindergarten readiness. In Long Beach, California, Raising A Reader families checked out over 100,000 children's books from the public library in the first nine months of 2005.

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The above Winner's Statement was provided by the profiled organization.