“Never did I ever think that I’d have a bookshelf in my house”

In this guest blog post, Amy C., Communications Specialist at Make Way for Books, shares information about the organization and, in particular, Virtual Story School. Keep reading to learn more about this amazing nonprofit, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2023!

At Make Way for Books, opens a new window, we realize the power of books and stories to foster children’s early literacy and language skills as well as to affirm children’s identities, to build their potential to imagine new possibilities, and to empower children to be the narrators of their own stories.

Founded in Tucson in 1998, Make Way for Books is an early literacy nonprofit organization with more than 23 years of experience helping children become thriving readers and learners. We work with thousands of families and educators in our community to ensure that young children (ages birth to 5) have the early literacy and learning experiences they need to start school ready to read and succeed. Our programs build on the latest science, a wide body of research from early literacy experts, as well as our programming over two decades and co-design with families and educators. We are also proud to be longtime a partner with Pima County Public Library and we work to connect children and families to the all the resources the library has to offer, both through our programming and the Make Way for Books App, opens a new window, which directly connects families to recommended books at their nearest library branch.

Right now, less than 1 out of 4 young children in Pima County have access to high-quality early education before kindergarten. Make Way for Books meets children and families where they are with free, bilingual, early literacy programming and books to ensure young children have the early literacy and learning experiences they need to thrive.

In the past, meeting families where they are meant travelling to neighborhood schools, mobile home and apartment communities, and community locations like the swap meet. As the Covid-19 pandemic progressed, we worked quickly and creatively to adapt our programming to a virtual space. In September 2020, we created Virtual Story School, opens a new window to support families online, providing a flexible and safe place for children and families to connect and learn together.

Virtual Story School uses a two-generation approach, meaning children and families learn together and build skills. Children build early literacy and language skills while parents gain strategies, tools, and confidence to support their children's early learning. During the 11-week bilingual series, children and families join a digital learning platform which guides them through interactive videos, live online learning groups facilitated by our Family Literacy Specialists, a digital Family Learning Space, as well as e-books and literacy activities via the Make Way for Books App. Each child receives a backpack filled with high-quality books. For many families, these books are an unexpected gift that changes their home. “This experience created a good foundation for our family. We read together every night. We got our first library card this year, that was thanks to Make Way for Books. Never did I ever think that I’d have a bookshelf in my house. We received all of these great books from Make Way for Books—20 books to fill up our bookshelf at home. I’m expecting this year and [my son is] now preparing to be a big brother that reads to his baby brother.”

We provide high-quality and multicultural books that reflect the lives and experiences of the young children participating in the program, and that also introduce them to new people and subjects. Virtual Story School addresses the need for culturally responsive programming, providing instruction and resources for bilingual and multilingual families. A Story School parent shared, “I learned to read and speak with my children in both languages… the importance of knowing two languages. Seeing her evolution [through Story School] has been a big change. She loves books. She understands more based on the books I’m reading to her. The thing I’ve loved about Make Way for Books is that we’re sharing books, yes, but we’re also sharing the meaning behind them. We get to talk about different perspectives. And we’re able to explore different cultures and teach our children that we may all celebrate different things and look different, but we are all the same.”

Since September 2020, more than 1,000 children and families in Arizona have attended Virtual Story School! The program has received incredible interest among families throughout our community and the response from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. “For families like mine, where preschool is not in the budget, this experience has meant so much,” said a Story School parent. “We loved everything about the program—the experience of seeing your child focus on a project and share with other kids, being able to have this community with other families, watching these videos and learning together, and having access to these amazing books. We were absolutely amazed.”

Families with young children (age 3 - 5) can apply online, opens a new window for our next session of Virtual Story School (in the spring).

Virtual Story School programming is made possible by our generous community. You can help support the program, and get books into the hands of young children, by making a gift to Make Way for Books, opens a new window.

Our appreciation to Amy for sharing all of this great information! If you know someone who might be interested in Virtual Story School, please pass this blog post along!