Partner Spotlight: Early Reading with BookSmart Gives Children a Head Start
Juanita Yancey, Executive Officer of the Georgia Head Start Association, knows a thing or two about running a successful Head Start program. In fact, it’s practically in her DNA.
“I was a Head Start kid back in the 1960s when the program was first created, and my mother was actually a Head Start teacher for more than 30 years,” she laughed, pointing out that in her current role providing support to the 6,800 staff serving 24,000 children throughout the state, plenty has changed since the program’s inception – especially the increasing focus on school success, enhanced by family engagement.
This October, during National Head Start Awareness Month, the Georgia Head Start Association is kicking off a pilot project introducing families at three centers to Worldreader’s BookSmart app in hopes of boosting the daily habit of family reading. BookSmart connects youth and caregivers to thousands of books and supporting activities. It is free of cost and available anytime, anywhere, and on any digital device, which is something Yancey hopes will appeal to the families served by Head Start.
We hope BookSmart helps caregivers understand that they do have the time and flexibility to read together. It’s so good for children – the more they read, the more prepared they are for school, and the more they retain. Reading gets children used to learning, and it helps them learn how to engage with the world.Juanita Yancey, Executive Officer, Georgia Head Start Association
For many youth-serving programs, Yancey noted that the engagement challenge isn’t confined to the classroom. More often, the obstacle lies in making time to read together daily, once families are at home. Yancey hopes to clear that hurdle by meeting families where they are and introducing BookSmart during monthly parent meetings and required home visits.
“We’re using this time together to teach parents and caregivers how to use the app,” she said. “We’ll also be following up with them and showing them their family’s progress through the BookSmart tracking system. We want to provide encouragement and support.”
Changing adult perceptions around when daily reading time should occur at home is another challenge. For example, the standard bedtime story might not always be an option for families constantly on the go, in non-traditional settings, or with caregivers working more than one job.
With BookSmart, reading can be done just about anywhere. You can read with your child sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for an appointment. You can do it at the park or over the weekend. As long as a cell phone is nearby, you can read with your child at any time.Juanita Yancey
Particularly for the youngest readers, like those served by Head Start, Yancey adds that the benefits build connection and relationship. “Reading is nurturing. It’s a time when caregivers and their children can really be close to each other,” she remarked. “It enhances attachment, provides facetime, supports social emotional learning and brain development.”
According to Yancey, these benefits go a long way. “Head Start is not a one-size-fits-all organization. We serve the neediest of the needy, and our children come to us from all walks of life and stages of development. Our work at the earliest stages prepares children for exposure to literacy in classrooms once they’re school-aged. Reading together is time well spent.”