The benefits of reading are boundless. Research has shown that reading at grade level by fourth grade is a key indicator of whether a child will graduate on time. A home culture rich in books can provide advanced literacy, numeracy and problem-solving benefits to children. Reading helps build empathy skills, reduces stress and increases life expectancy.
But developing a lifelong love of reading is more than academics, social/emotional skills or the possession of pulped trees and printed words. It’s a lifelong aesthetic that starts young, and every February Basalt Elementary School dedicates a month to exploring that pleasure.
“Kids love books,” says Basalt Elementary School Principal Suzanne Wheeler Del Piccolo. “They’re still inspired by going to the library and picking out a book, and we want to make sure everyone has that opportunity, whether they have books at home or not. That happens for every student in our school. It’s about equity and it’s a big deal.”
BES’s month-long I Love to Read program celebrates its 20th anniversary this February.
The program began in 1998 when Basalt Elementary School received a $90,000 literacy grant through the Aspen Foundation. Literacy specialist Nancy Boyer helped design the initial reading program, which in its earliest days involved bringing kids inside during the coldest part of the year.
“It started out with all the kids reading in the gym on our old campus before school,” Wheeler Del Piccolo says. “Kids used to sit on carpet squares. It was a way to inspire kids to love reading, bottom line. We wanted them to know reading wasn’t just a skill to be learned but it was a skill to love and enjoy.”
Although Dr. Seuss, whose birthday is March 2, has been I Love to Read’s mascot from the outset, over the years the program has shifted location from the gym to the library to hallways to accommodate a growing student body, new campus and changing bus schedules. Last year the program switched from before school into Crew classes (a dedicated first-period class that focuses on character skills, social-emotional learning, and academic goal setting) to ensure all students could participate, regardless of when the bus dropped them off.
“We’re willing to set aside Crew for the month because it highlights a lot of aspects of Crew, like buddy reading,” Wheeler Del Piccolo says. “It’s a great way to build community across grade levels and with guest readers. It’s that community connection.”
The community component has always been key. Parents, siblings, family members, older students and community members have all been invited in to participate and read to students in various ways.
“We hope reading a book is a foundational love and joy, but it’s also engaging on a relational level,” Wheeler Del Piccolo says. “When you read with another person, there’s so much going on there that you’re not going to get reading a tablet. And I Love to Read has always been about relationships and coming together.”
The celebration of reading kicked off Jan. 31 with a school-wide assembly that not only included a student rap song about reading in English and Spanish but also a green-screen video presentation of book studies created by students. Students spent the first week buddy-reading with older grades coming down into younger grades to read. The week concluded with a fun pajama day.
In the second week, all Crew classes will participate in author studies around their favorite books and a Valentines-themed dress-up day. The following week, the school is flooded with special guest readers ranging from grandparents to fire fighters.
“I remember seeing this adorable older man come in last year and he was dressed the part of the main character,” says BES Librarian Suzanne Sherry. “He had props. Kids get to see how that love of reading transfers to adults. I love the community members as role models, too. To be able to sit and read with the police officer and not be afraid is important.”
The week of Feb. 25, the program returns to its roots. Students will line the hallways to read together again, and parents and siblings are invited in as well. Families are also encouraged to visit Basalt Regional Library on Feb. 26 for a special literacy evening that includes dinner and the chance to sign up for a library card and learn more about the public library.
On Feb. 28, the entire school dresses up as a Dr. Seuss character, and the program concludes on March 1 with each student taking home a brand-new book.
“We are specific about getting English and Spanish, fiction and nonfiction, at all different levels,” says Sherry, who orders the books. “We’re careful that the kids have a good choice of current books. It’s not donated or leftover books. They’re special and all kids get to pick one out.”
Both Wheeler Del Piccolo and Sherry hope the impact of I Love to Read extends beyond its dedicated month at the school. They recommend parents continue to make time to read to their children and also model a love of reading year-round themselves.
“Have your kid see you be excited about reading your own books,” Sherry suggests. “I think that’s a lot of what I Love to Read is, that you're seeing everyone else read too.”
And, of course, it never hurts to fill your home with books.
BES fourth-graders weigh in on I Love to Read month and reading
“Reading is better for your mind because it helps your mind grow. It helps you learn! I Love to Read Month is putting it out there that reading is important and that kids need to read.”
— Evie Rhodes
“I think it’s important because kids get better at reading and there are interesting books and fun-to-read books.
— Stefany Sofia Magana
“I Love to Read Month is important because it helps kids become better readers. It encourages kids to read chapter books, and they don’t have to be in front of screens.”
— Taylor Latousek
“I like it because you can read lots of books out in the hall and it’s fun.”
— Chloe Sandoval
“What I like about I Love to Read Month is it gives kids a better chance to read in the morning instead of just during reading time.”
— Abbey Harris
“I love I Love to Read Month because I get to read my ‘I Survived ...’ books. We get more time to read in the morning. It makes my friends happy and same with me!”
— Teia Fryer
“I think it’s important because it gives you knowledge and it makes you smarter. For me, reading is like my favorite sport!”
— Axel Gleasman
“Reading is important because it grows your knowledge and grows your imagination. It has good folktales like ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer.’ They are very good. You should try reading them!”
— William Shand