Dream Big, Read! A Super-Fun Summer Reading Program At Children’s

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Today, we have a guest post from Peggy Smith, B.S. M.S. Peggy is the School Teacher/Education Liaison here at Children’s.

Reading has always been a passion of mine, but that passion goes beyond the stories themselves. I am a big advocate of literacy, particularly in children.

Kids read in school, but research has shown that students who read for fun—not because it’s an assignment—perform better in school. At Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, we want to support that kind of reading. 

That’s why the Family Resources department at Children’s began the “Dream Big, READ!” summer reading program.

What Is “Dream Big, READ!”?

“Dream Big, READ!” is an incentive-based plan—kids set goals, and they earn prizes as they reach their goals.

Usually, these are daily goals. They can be, “I’m going to read a certain number of pages today,” or, “I’m going to read for half an hour today.”

We want to individualize it so that it works best for the family. Whether it is pages, minutes, chapters or books, we want it to be achievable so that when they reach their goal, they’re allowed to choose a prize.

We have hundreds of books available, but kids can also choose to read their own books, magazines, e-books, newspapers—anything to keep them reading.

With a hospital environment, we thought it was really important to set this up as a plan with short-term goals. Patients and have widely differing lengths of admission. Some stay for a couple of days; others for weeks or months.

We need to make sure as many patients as possible get a chance to participate and succeed, no matter how long they’re here.

How It Works

Each day, I come around to the participating kids and give them a sheet to keep track of their progress (e.g., pages, minutes spent reading). It doesn’t have to be turned in—it’s just for them.

Once they have signed up, I bring my prize wagon the following day, and kids who reached their goals get to choose a prize. It’s usually small toys, like puzzles, markers, Hot Wheels cars, card games, craft kits, bubbles, or single Barbie dolls.

The prize wagon is very motivating. It’s a pretty sure bet—kids who see the prize wagon but didn’t reach their goals will usually meet their goals the next day.

It’s a little more challenging to find prizes that appeal to the older kids. For them, we sometimes give bigger prizes, like earbud sets, puzzles, or iTunes cards.

But to get bigger prizes, they have to set loftier goals (e.g., meeting daily goals for a whole week). Stuffed animals are always a hit with every age.

It’s A Family Affair

The summer reading program isn’t just for patients—it’s for their whole families.

Siblings are always welcome to join in, and we get a fair amount who participate. Last summer (2016), we had 242 total participants, and 21 were siblings.

It’s great when the siblings join in; it gives them a way to connect with their brother or sister who is spending time in the hospital, and more opportunities to spend time together. It also helps create a sense of normalcy.

We’ve found that parents really like that siblings can participate. Often, when a kid is in the hospital, the parents come in with their other children in tow. It can be difficult to find something for the other kids to do, and they can get bored, which only makes things harder.

The reading program gives them something fun to do while they’re spending time in the hospital.

Parents are active in the reading program, as well. If children are not feeling well enough to read or are too young to read, the daily goals can involve parents reading to their kids. We’ve had parents and infants participate this way—one of our youngest participants was only three days old.

Dreams Come True

The reading incentive program has been very well-received by parents and patients. Kids are so excited to read and earn their prizes, and the parents share that excitement with their kids. We have families who say the prize wagon is the thing they most look forward to every day.

If a nurse knows a patient is participating in the program and is about to get discharged, she lets me know so that I can make my way to the room before the family leaves. I want to make sure that all efforts to read are rewarded.

One of the biggest measures of success is when kids realize they love to read. They start to ask if they can have more than one book, if I have any favorite authors, series, or characters.

Sometimes, a child has a favorite book that she could just read over and over again. When that happens, she might be allowed to take the book home—I love seeing books go home in the hands of kids who are excited to keep reading.  We are always happy to give books away.

“Dream Big, READ!” is available to all patients and siblings, of any age. The program runs Mondays through Thursdays from June through July.

We encourage reading for fun year-round, so let the Children’s staff know if your child is looking for something to read. We’ll be happy to help him find something.

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Barb Roessner

Hi, I'm Barb, and I'm a Physician Assistant and coordinator of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I work with patients and families at every step of the journey, from diagnosing their child's heart condition to my favorite part—calling them to say "We have a heart."

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