March 2nd: Read Across America Day

Do you know what March 2 is? According to my teacher friends, you have to know if you’re an elementary school teacher. I’ll pause. Hum dee da da…la la la…No? It’s the birthday of Theodor Geisel—better known to many as children’s author Dr. Seuss. It’s also the day that the National Education Association (NEA) has designated as Read Across America Day! Read Across America Day is the annual celebration of the NEA’s Read Across America awareness and motivation program.

This year marks the 19th anniversary of Read Across America Day. In 1997, an NEA task force on reading came up with the idea to celebrate reading and motivate children to read based on the idea of pep rallies schools already used to celebrate other initiatives and activities in schools, and the first Read Across America Day was celebrated in 1998. Why is reading so important? The NEA notes that “[r]esearch has shown that children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.” One of my favorite books about reading is The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. While its research focuses more on the benefits being read to, it highlights the importance of reading in the life of a child. Plus it has huge lists of books to read in the back—you’re sure to find something you and your child will love to read together!

And now Back to Read Across America Day. What are some ways that you can take some extra time to celebrate the joy of reading on March 2?

  • Check in with your child’s school (or your neighborhood school if you don’t have school-aged children) to see what it has planned. Ask how you can help! For example, my daughter’s preschool is inviting guest readers to come in every day during the week of Read Across America Day. As her teacher pointed out to parents, the class reads together every day, but to have someone new come into the classroom makes it even more exciting!
  • Take a look at your local library’s calendar to see if they’re hosting an event you and your child can attend. While you’re there, be sure to check out some books to read together. And if your child doesn’t have a library card already, Read Across America Day is the perfect time to get one! Let your child feel the thrill of checking out their own books!
  • Read your local newspaper to find Read Across America Day events in your community. The NEA encourages groups and schools to publicize their events and even provides media tips.
  • Look for events at your local independent bookstore or Barnes and Noble. Take your child to enjoy a special Read Across America event. Consider adding a book or two your home library while you’re there.
  • Encourage your local governing body (town council, county board of supervisors, etc.) to issue a proclamation marking March 2 as a day to celebrate reading.
  • Support NEA Read Across America’s partners Reading is Fundamental, First Book, Heart of America Foundation’s Books from the Heart®, and Penguin Group and Pearson’s We Give Books. These programs make free or low-cost books available to qualifying schools and families.
  • Get in touch with your local library to see if they have a wishlist of books. Then, grant some wishes!
  • Make a reading date with a child. Grab a book and visit your local coffee shop to enjoy a beverage and some quality reading time. BONUS: If you have a child who reads independently, this is one of those marvelous and rare opportunities to spend time together by ignoring each other!

As we’re talking about borrowing library books or adding to your homes permanent library, I encourage you not to dwell too much on what your child is reading (aside from making sure it’s developmentally appropriate, of course!).  The NEA offers the following sobering statistics (which are older, being from the mid-1990s to early 2000s, but nothing I’ve come across recently makes me think their message is less true now):

  • “The Educational Testing Services reported that students who do more reading at home are better readers and have higher math scores; however, students read less for fun as they get older.”
  • “The U.S. Department of Education found that, generally, the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores. Between 1984 and 1996, however, the percentage of 12th grade students reporting that they “never” or “hardly ever” read for fun increased from 9 percent to 16 percent.”

Just as your personal reading material varies (blogs, newspapers/online news sites, celebrity gossip, non-fiction, fiction, well-written award-winning books, trashy vacation-worthy novels), let your child’s reading material vary.

And remember: you don’t have to limit your celebration of reading to March 2! You can find tools to build and continue your child’s interest in reading at the NEA’s website. Or you can go the super-easy route and just read in front of, with, and to your child!