It was a sunny day with clear skies for Belmont’s 15th Annual Family Literacy Day at Rose Park.
The event, held Saturday afternoon and sponsored by Belmont’s Volunteers for Literacy, invited children of all ages within the Nashville community to read books with Belmont students.
Student volunteers sat on blankets with elementary-aged children reading old favorites like “Cat in the Hat” and “If You Give a Moose a Muffin.” The English Club, English classes, Hands for Hope and individual volunteers made up the groups, each with a colorful poster that displayed themes like “Dr. Seuss,” “Dragons and Dinosaurs” and “Español.”
After reading a certain number of books, children received stickers for treats and prizes inside Carter Lawrence Elementary School. Implementing an incentive system made them more excited to read books with the college students.
“It was fun. First I read it to them and then they read it to me,” said 8-year-old Sparkles Parrot. “I read three books so I got three stickers, and then if I read one more I get a prize.”
Inside the school, children played games like Candyland and participated in a book walk. In the book walk, they walked around on a circle of numbered papers to music. When the music stopped, if they were on the number that was drawn from the Ziploc bag, they got to choose a book to take home, donated by Book ‘Em.
Other activities, including decorating bookmarks, making a Dr. Seuss Hat Oreo cookie and planting seeds in styrofoam cups were offered inside. In the same room, children stood in line for popcorn, cotton candy and fruit.
Director of Service Learning Tim Stewart pioneered this event during his first year at Belmont 15 years ago.
For the first seven years, the event was hosted on-campus. Moving it to a park within the community was a gesture of service to Belmont’s neighbors and made it less intimidating for children, he said.
“It’s really important for kids to learn how to read and to think of reading as fun,” said Stewart. “To read for pleasure, but also to learn to read so they can read to learn.”
Although all members of the Nashville community were invited, the inner-city location of Rose Park is crucial to promoting literacy to surrounding residents.
High-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare, according to a study by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley.
However, literacy is important for reasons other than just fun.
“They base the number of prison beds they need on fourth grade literacy rates,” said Stewart.
“They can tell that if these kids can’t read by fourth grade, this percentage is going to end up committing crimes, because they don’t have what they perceive to be good alternatives.”
Having college students leading the groups and acting as role models to the children played a key part in this, Stewart said.
“I think it’s really important that kids think of reading as fun, and that they want to do it, that they see college students enjoy it too,” said Stewart.
“We didn’t get here where we are by not being able to read and not enjoying reading, and so they hopefully have role model, people to look up to.”