If you’re a writer or a reader, you know that books are awesome. And if you read with kids, you know books speak deeply to little hearts and minds. But you may or may not know that, according to the NEA, “…poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement…And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.” Another downside to less readers and writers–less truly fantastic independent bookstores.
But lately kids’ book sales have been on the rise, which hopefully means the next generation of adults will be well-informed, well-rounded, and well-read. And so, you know, maybe less likely to explode the planet. You and I, whether we are parents or not, can help by volunteering to read with kids. I do it every week at my local library, but there are all kinds of fun ways you can volunteer to promote literacy. Here are five of my favorites:
1. Be a STAR Reader, and read with kids at your local Los Angeles library branch. After a couple hours of training on a Saturday and a background check, you can pick what day(s) and how often you hang out at the library and read with the kiddos. (2 hours/week preferred.)
2. Can’t volunteer every week? Almost every library branch is looking for volunteers to help for an hour or two with their community programs. They range in topics from arts and crafts and STEM workshops to cooking, gardening, and games. Most ideas come from the volunteers, so if you want to put on a story writing workshop or “reading comic books for beginners,” they’d probably love that. Call, email, or chat in person with your local kids’ librarian to find out more.
3. Another low-commitment opportunity is Reading to Kids. Volunteer on Saturday mornings whenever you can; no weekly commitment required. Pick a “Reading to Kids” location near you that needs volunteers, and join a big ol’ group of folks as they spend the morning reading with underserved children.
4. Is writing more your speed? Volunteer with 826LA and help students ages six to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills via tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, and ESL. Also, they have two Time Travel Marts for all your time-travel needs. For real.
5. If you’d like to try something a little more mentor-like, you can tutor homeless kids in reading and writing, or other school subjects, with School on Wheels. As a more relationship-based program, they like you to stick around for a full school year, and they have summer activities too. I also happen to know that the Tiger Frances Foundation brings by cuddly and cool rescue animals once in a while for hands-on learning assignments, including a turtle who thinks he’s a dog, so you get to play with critters too.
BONUS: Speaking of animals… Does your dog love storytime? BARK has programs all over California where kids improve their skills by reading out loud to non-judgy, happy-to-listen canine pals and their humans. You and your dog have to meet their criteria to participate, so every person and pet is sure to stay safe and have fun, but it’s definitely worth it.
If you know of other volunteer opportunities that encourage reading and writing, leave their info in the comments! Because reading isn’t just fundamental; it shapes who we are as a culture, and I sure want that culture to include neighborhood hang-outs in cozy chairs surrounded by used books, furry animals, and well-rounded people.
Sarah Parker-Lee is a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member & the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, a content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, & is available to edit your writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history, sci-fi, & is the creator of Dogs & Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies