March is National Reading Month! It is a month to motivate people of all ages to be more engaged and active in their reading. Humans read far more every day than many of us realize: road signs, nutrition labels, clothing tags, directions; the list goes on and on. Learning to read and reading to learn contribute to our knowledge about the world around us. Reading is essential to actively participating in our society, and one of the best ways to learn to read and to share a love of reading is through service.

Intergenerational Reading and Service 

Communities are stronger when people of diverse backgrounds, abilities, or ages become friends and work together for a common purpose. These individuals learn to recognize different perspectives, and as they find common ground, they learn to respect people who are different than them. Inter-generational reading is the act of reading with someone older or younger, which brings people with different life perspectives together for a positive shared experience. For example, bedtime reading is a positive experience in which parents slow down and talk and listen, allowing children to learn from someone who cares about them. Grandparents or seniors from a neighborhood retirement community may read favorite books and tell stories from their own childhoods. Children learn the value of books and see how books and life impact people in different ways. Inter-generational reading also describes a group of high school students reading to buddies in a local kindergarten classroom. Reading is a skill that is best learned through positive experiences, repetition, and reflected practice. 

The key to inter-generational reading is viewing text as a connector: building relationships, understanding differing perspectives, and sharing in time together.

Fostering relationships between different generations is extremely valuable as it helps each age group teach and learn from one another. In intergenerational reading, the text becomes a connector that holds different people together and gives them something to talk about, or laugh or cry about. It serves both the older and younger generation. This list of service projects sparks ideas for inter-generational service-learning. 

As children are learning to read or reading to learn, it is important to set aside time for intentional reading at school and at home every day. In some cases, reading or finding time to read at home can be difficult due to other life circumstances. Participating in inter-generational reading through service-learning can help to “fill a social gap for children and youth who do not have elder role models or caregivers in their families.” This gives children  the opportunity to immerse themselves in a book during the school day and develop a love for reading. Setting up a service project in which children read to someone older (or younger) gives the added feeling of satisfaction in doing something good. 

Japan has initiated their own inter-generational program entitled “REPRINTS” where they are “contributing to children’s growth, as well as maintaining safety, and promoting older adults’ health” (Yasunaga, et al.). This program works to combine the minds of older generations with younger ones. The older generation “reads picture books to kindergarten and elementary school-aged children, with the expectation that it will help them share their accumulated cultural knowledge and values with the child participants as well as generate mutual trust…” The goals and efforts behind this program only further emphasize the importance behind inter-generational programs and how reading can truly make a difference in a child’s life and education. 

Intergenerational Reading Service-Learning Stories 

These stories of students reading with people of different ages include Learning to Give lessons that teach empathy and generosity.

A group of 5th and 6th grade students from Indiana delivered and read over 100 new children’s books to preschool-aged students for the service-learning project Reading Connections for All

Ms. Richardson, a 2nd grade teacher from Michigan taught the lesson Building Sensitivity & Awareness to prepare students with simulations of reduced hearing or mobility for the project coined Inter-Generational Reading Buddies where students would interact throughout the school year with residents of a retirement home 

Learn about Literacy and Encourage Reading

These Learning to Give resources provide structure or tips for successful intergenerational reading projects.

  • Literature Review Guides: These guides may be used by students or adults and provide before, during, and after questions and activities to accompany good books. The shared experience of reading a book is powerful in many ways. Children learn reading, listening, and comprehension skills, while together you celebrate the joys and sorrows that good literature presents. Literature brings us closer and introduces real issues and broadens experience in a safe environment.
  • Reading Tutor Tips for Building Literacy and Philanthropy: These tips will make time reading aloud with a child more meaningful and effective.
  • Literacy for All: This lesson plan teaches the definition of literacy and includes a game related to literacy facts.
  • Literacy Student-Learning Toolkit: These service-learning project ideas and resources are designed to spark ideas for actions related to increasing literacy and using literature and writing to advocate for what we care about.

Tips for Helping Kids Learn to Love Reading

  1. Set aside time to read throughout the day.
  2. Find books with themes that pique your students’ interest; this will help increase their desire to read. 
  3. Allow the topic and emotions of the book to guide the shared enjoyment; laugh, cry, and talk about the new ideas and feels that arise. 
  4. Engage with the book in a creative way. This could be through a reading log, drawing a picture, blogging about what you have and have not liked about various books, or even starting a bookclub or book show-and-tell.  
  5. Talk about books you love and what you are currently reading; show them you value reading.

Read On! 

Service-learning projects that involve reading give readers an opportunity to share their knowledge with others while creating a fun and engaging experience that makes a difference. 

Look around your community for places where individuals may have limited access to reading. Maybe it's young people who don't have books at home or elderly people whose eyesight prevents reading small pring. Ask your students, "How can we help?" Find a Learning to Give lesson that guides students to join together and read aloud at a nursing home, a dog shelter, or even another classroom in your school. The act of reading to others not only serves others, but also serves your students as they practice their own reading skills in a meaningful and fun community experience. 

Think: What are your reading goals going forward? What will you do to encourage intergenerational reading? What plans do you have to challenge youth to read more this month? We would love to hear all of your ideas and see the progress you make. Please tag us on our social media accounts @LearningtoGive #Teach1 #LTGInMySchool  

Reminder: The Benefits of Reading

  • Reading is a skill developed over time.
  • Reading can be hard, and for children with dyslexia or ADHD or any other learning disability, the learning process might be even more difficult. 
  • Reading can be done in all sorts of settings: individually, out loud to a large group of people, or even one-on-one as a bedtime story.
  • Reading aloud “helps the child develop their phonics skills. This is the ability to hear and identify the correspondence between these sounds and the spelling patterns that represent them” (Hunter). When in doubt, read it out! Children learn how to make sounds and string sounds together through exposure.
  • Most children love to observe the world around them, so with that in mind it is important to take advantage of their curiosity. Books can help expand the imagination! Hunter further explains that reading “can lead to positive mental health benefits, brain stimulation, and an increase in knowledge and memory.” 
  • Through reading, we are able to expand our vocabulary and our imagination, and develop our creativity.
  • Reading helps us identify problems and seek solutions.
  • Reading can get us into the mind or experience of someone else. It allows us to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’ and to learn how we can be better friends, siblings, teammates, etc. 
  • Sometimes it can be difficult for a child to find themselves interested in reading. Talk with them about books and incorporate reading topics that align closely with their interests so they are more likely to see the value of reading.