Honoring National Reading Month

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 @ 04:06 PM

reading_month_image.jpg

Here at YouthBeat®, we value the importance of reading, and like those famous words from Dr. Seuss in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, we believe reading is the gateway to a better future. But as March comes and goes, reading really takes center stage as we help celebrate National Reading Month.  Even as we step into 2016, too many children across this country are struggling with literacy. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 65% of fourth graders scored below proficiency on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress reading test, indicating that they are not reading at grade level. Among eighth graders, only 36% are reading at or above grade level.

The question is, what can be done to help our youth build the literacy skills they need to live a successful and prosperous life?  There are a variety of organizations, both local and national, that are trying to address this question. 

  • Readaloud.org has started a 10 year campaign encouraging parents to spend 15 minutes every day reading to their children.
  • A study conducted by John Hutton of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, reveals that preschoolers whose parents read to them regularly show more activity in key areas of their brains.
  • Another study by Dominic Massaro, from the University of California, shows that reading to children helps expand their vocabulary and grammatical understanding more than simply talking to them. He found that picture books are two to three times more likely to include a word outside the 5,000 most commonly used English words than a parent to child conversation. According to Massaro, “Reading picture books to babies and toddlers is important because the earlier children acquire language, the more likely they are to master it.  You are stretching them in vocabulary and grammar at an early age.  You are preparing them to be expert language users, and indirectly you are going to facilitate their learning to read.”

Unfortunately, not all children and families, especially those from low-income households, have access to books and reading material. That is why the White House has announced a new program called Open eBooks.  It is an app that gives children living in low-income households access to eBooks valued at more than $250 million. Students, educators and administrators from more than 66,000 Title 1 schools will have access to the app and its content.  The program is also paired with an initiative to get every child a library card, giving them maximum access to books – both on paper and digitally.

But there are also many smaller and local organizations that are doing their part to make a difference. 

  • Over the past school year, I have had the chance to volunteer with Y Reads!, an after school reading program that is in partnership with the YMCA and the Department of Education. The program is grant-funded by the DOE and focuses on helping Title 1 schools that have high rates of students reading below grade level.
  • Each year, the lowest core readers in first to third grade are invited to participate in the program. The program is led by one site-coordinator who accesses students’ reading levels and builds an appropriate lesson plan for each student. The rest of the program relies solely on volunteers to mentor the children through their lessons.  Each session focuses on the student practicing their phonics, sight words, spelling, reading and comprehension. 

As a volunteer, it has been an incredible experience getting to see some of today’s youth grow and expand and have a better chance at a brighter future. I cheer for them as they figure out that difficult word, and smile when they light up because they got an answer right. Because really when it comes down to it, they want a chance at chasing their dreams and want to know that they are worthy of an education.  Now the question is, how can your organization lend a hand, not just during National Reading month but all year long?

Tags: kids, reading, kids tweens teens, market research, books, literacy

Lessons from The Snowy Day

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 @ 11:33 AM

imagesOver the past few weeks, kids and families across the country have experienced their first snowfall of the year.  While we were sledding, donning snowsuits, building snowmen, and sipping hot chocolate, we were reminded of one of our favorite picture books about playing in the snow:  Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.

The Snowy Day is the story of Peter, a young boy living in the city, who wakes up to find snow covering EVERYTHING.  Soon, he’s out of his “jammies” and out in the wide world all by himself. He knocks the snow from trees, makes snow angels, and climbs a hill pretending to be a “mountain climber.” After a long day of exploring, Peter returns home to his mom, a hot bath, and a good night’s sleep.  What can marketers and content creators learn from this simple but elegant story?

  1. The simplest pleasures can be the most fun.  In The Snowy Day, something as simple as your feet provides a wealth of possibilities.  Peter walks through the snow with his toes pointed out, and then in.  He then drags his feet to create long, unbroken lines in the snow.  An average stick becomes a toy for Peter and he’s able to reach up higher than he normally could and smack the snow off a tree.  And that’s all Peter needs to do before moving on to his next adventure.  The simple act of sliding down a hill is so much fun, Peter does it repeatedly. It’s easy to think that today’s youth are too jaded to enjoy the “basics.” But one snowfall shows that there are plenty of young-at-heart activities that attract kids, tweens and even teens and their parents!
  2. Being alone can be fun too.  In a world in which everything is social, remember that on occasion, kids want and need time to themselves. Without any adults around, Peter is in control of his day. He revels in recounting his tale to his mother, but he had almost every adventure on his own. It isn’t until the final page of the book that we see him with a friend. Once he’s mastered his environment, he’s ready to bring a playmate along for the ride.
  3. The outdoors can still be magical to kids.  For Peter, the city is a playground.  He never stays in one spot for too long.  He wanders through city streets, past buildings and street lamps.  But no matter what city elements are around him, Peter always turns to the snow.  The snow gives him something to walk on, something to slide on, something to build with, and something to create with.  Just before returning home, Peter creates a snowball and puts it in his coat pocket “for tomorrow.”  Peter wants to bring the snow home and inside with him.  Like, arguably, the other greatest children’s book of the past century, Where the Wild Things Are, the hero is alone in the “wild,” both making it his own and showing how at home he feels within it.

No snow where you are? Try out “snow wonder” - we double-dog dare you. And please let us know what you think!

Tags: Youth, reading, youth media

Why Back to School Should Start with an Understanding of “School”

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 @ 09:09 AM

Marketers tend to seek insights about adolescents outside the classroom – in their culture, in their extracurriculars, etc. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much time youth spend in schools during the day. As it should be (at least we think), these spaces are considered sacred and generally off-limits to non-academic researchers. However, understanding their attitudes towards school can shed light on the state of mind and on the characteristics of this cohort. What engages them intellectually? What does it feel like to walk through the hallways of their own schools? And, how do they view the adults they interact with almost everyday of their lives?

for web 57447358In a July 2012 study of 981 high school students (an equal mix of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors), C+R Research found that some things never change, but of course, this creative and connected generation may be perceiving and experiencing school life differently than we might think.

We asked our survey respondents to choose the three words that best describe their school. Overwhelmingly, teens described their schools as “competitive” and “challenging,” but also “friendly” and “interesting.” Over 50% of freshmen say that science or math is their favorite subject – but only 32% of seniors share this sentiment. And, when it comes to food in the cafeteria? Boys and girls both agree that the options better suit the boys’ tastes than the girls’.

Recently we’ve taken to watching the documentary series, “Kindergarten” on HBO Family. Like the series, “High School,” before it, this tot doc shows how 5- and 6- year-olds handle the big transition from home to school – following a real-life kindergarten classroom from day one to the “moving on” ceremony. A view of this show reminds us what really gets little guys going and how a thoughtful teacher can engage and invite even the most timid early learners. (My own four-year-old is riveted!)

Knowing what their everyday lives are really like further contextualizes their out of school time (are we surprised that some kids want to lounge on the couch, after seeing the rigorous schedule they keep at many schools?). Knowing what topics they care about in school can inspire innovation even more than an investigation of what they already do after school. And knowing about their school day makes the causes they care about outside of school make more sense. So next time you want to understand eating, viewing or participating in sports, start with what’s going on in the place where youth spend most of their hours. You may find that what happens in school is closer to their hearts than you might have thought.

Tags: preschool, bullying, Sports, Teens, free time, reading, school

Empowering Kids to Fix the Environment: The Lingering Lesson of The Lorax

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 09, 2012 @ 01:06 PM

It’s not news to his many fans that Dr. Seuss did not shy away from exploring the issues on his mind, and exposing the problems of his time, through books intended to talk to both children and to the parents who read to them. In books, like The Better Butter Battle and The Lorax, he exposes the “childishness” in the way that adults (presumably those in power) behave, using his tales to tell lessons about nuclear proliferation and environmental destruction (just to name two). With a film version of The Lorax entering theaters last week, many critics questioned its “agenda.” Its modern day villain, O’Hare, is not only more sinister than the Once-ler because he chooses financial gain over environmental sustainability, but mostly because he does so knowingly. While the Once-ler’s tale is one of youthful exuberance and entrepreneurialism gone awry, O’Hare is an adult who should have known better.Lorax Movie Poster

But  Dr. Seuss’ brilliance – and the resonance of this sophisticated story with small children – doesn’t stem from his cynicism. It doesn’t even come from kids’ natural inclination towards nature, which Richard Louv called “biophilia” in his groundbreaking work, Last Child in the Woods. Rather, the power of his message comes through in the final pages of his book, and in the action-packed chase scene of the film, catalyzed by one seemingly mysterious word: “unless.” This word, the Once-ler comes to understand as a heuristic for a “perfectly clear” call to action… “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

It’s with this word, and the meaning behind it, that the Once-ler shifts the source of agency from the old to the young. The book and film’s namesake sage, the Lorax, is not only “oldish,” but he also “spoke in a voice that was sharpish and bossy.” The film turns Ted’s grandmother (voiced, appropriately by Betty White) into a heroine who transcends granny stereotypes, but also serves as Ted’s bridge to a nature-filled past. Even the Once-ler is an aged, decrepit version of his once youthful, vibrant self. But with a drop of a Truffula Tree seed (the last one!) and the lyrical passing of the baton, the Once-ler tells Ted, and Seuss assures the child reader, that even if they don’t remember what has been lost, they can change the world.


Tags: kids, movies, book, movie, Youth, free time, reading, culture

What Wishlists Tell Us About Tweens

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 @ 11:47 AM

In our last few blogs, we have been looking at our YouthBeat age groups through the lens of their top wishlists items for this year.  If you’re shopping for a tween, you know that being “in the middle” – navigating the treacherous territory between the safe haven of childhood and the risky waters of the teen years – makes for a complex and sometimes confused wishlist for the holidays. Right around 11 years old, we often hear parents of boys and girls complain that their children no longer have a go-to store, and there “asks” have become alarmingly few and far between…Sounds like a nice problem to have? Perhaps, but parents of tweens know that their children still have high expectations for their holiday hauls, and they also know that tweens’ lack of locution doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions about what they want. So, below is our best attempt to help these moms and dads out!

  1. If you need a tween shopping heuristic for the holidays, think child-like Taylor Swiftfun with a sophisticated twist. This lead us to a whole category that has served as a timeless turn-to for the tween set…Back in the late 80s, I remember, fondly, wishing for a bottle of Coty’s “Exclamation” under my Christmas tree. For tween girls, dressing up and putting on a look still feels playful, more than purposeful, and perfume serves as the perfect entry point to the beauty business. This category, which plays to the senses without putting forth an overly adult look, lets tweens fantasize and day-dream without being too daring. Every holiday season, a number of new brands emerge, but this holiday, we’re betting on wonderfully girly “Wonderstruck,” by Taylor Swift, the romantically optimistic “Someday,” from Justin Bieber, and for the hello kittyironic older tween, Hello Kitty and Crayola (yep, Crayola!) sprays from quirky scent house, Demeter.
  2. This year, reading gets a rad makeover with EBooks making it on to tweens’ radar. Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color and the Kindle Fire may make for a new kind of scene – instead of tweens listening to their iPods together, we may see them side-by-side with their stylishly accessorized eReaders, downloading the latest installment of the Hunger Games or “Pretty Little Liars.” Although YouthBeat data suggests that tweens continue to prefer paper (with some industry experts hypothesizing that the buy-it-on-release-day mentality created by the Harry Potter Series has led this generation to take on a collectors’ level love of the hard cover version of their favorite reads), this year, we expect to see tweens take hold of this new technology to a greater degree than ever before. If eBooks are slightly too sophisticated (or pricey!) for your tween, take a chance on another kids/tween trend – making you the star of your own book or comic! U Star Novels puts your name into a novel, combining younger tweens’ love of customization with their desire to see their name in lights (or print).
  3. Nike might not seem like news to us, but for tweens, this brand continues to top their list for footwear, and for boys and fashion. NikeiD gives the traditional brand a tween test, allowing tweens to get an authentic and socially endorsed product, but one of their own making. Customizable fashion can tend to feel kiddish, but mostly because the big brands tend to lead versus follow tween style…And too much play makes for a product that tweens don’t feel comfortable displaying. But NikeiD, which allows tweens to take a gift card to a website and create their own bags, kicks, and sport watches which look more like a find than a fun arts and crafts project.

Next up, our final group – teens!

Tags: parents, movies, Taylor Swift, beauty, fashion, reading, holiday, tweens, Justin Bieber