“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain
Imagine a world where books are rare… where children are never read bedtime stories… where there are no libraries…no understanding of reading for pleasure…Oh the Places You Won’t Go without Dr. Seuss…no teacher literacy training…nothing to help advance literacy in children. If you can’t imagine this world, all you have to do is come to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.
Three years ago, I started a lending library program for the elementary schools on Ometepe Island. As the books slowly came to the island, I categorized and distributed 100 books to each school. Ten simple rules for my lending library emphasized the need to wash hands before reading, keep the books in the classrooms, return them on time, and most importantly…enjoy and have fun reading.
However, all was not well in my lending library land. One school lost my container of books. Other schools set my containers in a lonely corner, where they sat unopened until I returned. Many of my books were either stolen, sold, or destroyed.
My intentions were good. My methods lacked understanding of a readerless society. I made too many assumptions. I assumed teachers knew how to hold a book to read to their classes, were trained in literacy methods and reading strategies, understood how a lending library worked, and could foster the love of reading. Boy was I was wrong!
- Create a reading environment
The rural elementary schools in Nicaragua are tiny and serve students in first through sixth grades. Each classroom holds at least two grades. Most schools only have three classrooms. There is usually one small room for office space and a small storage area in each school. I wanted to create a space for a small library separated from the classrooms. Every school needs a library.
- Offer a range of reference materials and audio-visual technology
This year the government ran out of money for textbooks. The elementary students in my neighborhood school have no text books. The teacher reads from the textbook and the students copy the information into a notebook by listening to the teacher. OH my! I need to stock the library space with a variety of audio-visual materials. If I could have one document camera and a small projector in each library, the teacher could project the textbook to the students on a wall of their classroom. Every student needs reference material, maps, and the teachers need a way to disseminate the information.
- Offer a range of books
Since the students have never read for pleasure, I need to start with very low-level children’s books in Spanish. Picture books with a few English words would work well, too. I’ve sent chapter books to the schools and they have never been used. Baby steps for a readerless society are necessary because chapter books with few pictures are intimidating.
- Volunteers wanted
Since I cannot possibly go to each school and read to the classes on a regular basis, I would like to start a volunteer program in each school where tourists, grandparents, parents, can go to school and read to a small group. I want to make a volunteer box with activities for several books, paper, crayons, puppets, and other supplies for fun activities after a book is read to a small group.
- Training and a part-time librarian
When I ask teachers how I can help them, one of the things they mention the most is money and training for a part-time librarian. The teachers are overwhelmed with two grade levels per classroom, sometimes over 40 students crammed into a hot, empty space. If I have the space, the books, and the materials, of course I need to hire and train a person to be the librarian.
I have a lot of work to do…but wait until you see what is happening in my La Paloma Elementary School now! The Gift of Reading in Nicaragua will blow your mind! Thanks to a little comment on my blog, we now have an exciting sister-school program for the La Paloma Elementary School. With a little help from my friends…oh the places we can go!
You can help create a world for all new readers that’s full of the joy of discovery, imagination, and information.