Wisconsin Bookworms

Planting the Seed of Excitement for Reading at an Early Age

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We’ve been hearing it for years: parents aren’t reading to their children enough.  One 2013 study from the School Library Journal sites that two-thirds of parents don’t read to their children every night.  Another 2016 survey from group Read Aloud 15 Minutes found that half of all parents read aloud to their children on a daily basis, and only 34% of parents read aloud to their children every day.  The list goes on.

The Green Lake Home and Community Education Wisconsin Bookworms project is actively making a difference to bridge this gap.  The program was developed in an effort to provide free books to children who may not otherwise be able to own them.  Wisconsin Bookworms promotes reading by giving preschool children the experience of having someone read to them.  By reading aloud to young children and providing them with free books of their own, these volunteers are providing this critical activity that so many parents are ignoring.  

Filling a Community Need

 

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Reading to young children helps them develop a love of reading along with an enthusiasm for learning.  Children from families with limited incomes may not have the opportunity to own many books.  According to the US Department of Education “some experts believe that for America’s poorest children, the biggest obstacle to literacy is the scarcity of books and appropriate reading material. In many homes, particularly those with adult non­readers, there simply aren’t any books appropriate for young children”.

There is considerable evidence of a relationship between reading regularly to a child and that child’s later reading achievement.  It is based on research indicating that literacy is key to staying in school and out of trouble.  Studies show that parents who are given books and a prescription for reading by their children’s pediatricians are four times more likely to read and share books with their young children.  Children who are read to frequently are nearly twice as likely as other children to show three or more skills associated with emerging literacy.  Wisconsin Bookworms brings together readers, mentors, and children on a regular basis throughout the school year.

This past academic year, Wisconsin Bookworms in Green Lake County provided a set of eight books to 170 three and four year old children in early childhood, Head Start, and 4K programs.  Each month, fifteen volunteers read books to the children, engaged them in a related activity, and gave the child the book to take home to keep, and read at home.  That’s a staggering 1360 books and over 500 volunteer hours reading to children!

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The Green Lake County Area United Fund is proud to have supported the Green Lake Home and Community Education Wisconsin Bookworms program!  To learn more about a Wisconsin Bookworms program in your area visit the main Wisconsin website.  And, if you’re a children’s book enthusiast, check out the 2017-2018 reading list!

 

About the author:  Kristopher Ulrich is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.  His favorite children’s book is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  

Donors + Passion = Accomplishment

Directly across the street from Webster Stanley Elementary School on Miller’s Bay is one of the best natural ice skating rinks you can find during the winter months.

As Steve Eliasen and Dr. Eric Smiltneek were gliding across the glass-like surface a few years ago, they wondered why more people didn’t take advantage of the resource – especially the school children directly across the street.

That one curious moment lead to a series of offerings in Oshkosh schools that are opening children’s eyes to new possibilities.

While Mother Nature delivered a shortened winter season in 2016-17, last school year, more than 1,300 children learned to ski or skate from Eliasen, Smiltneek and a small group of volunteers. The accomplishment is one that produces magical, tingly feelings for those who made it happen — a couple of outdoor recreation enthusiasts, many encouraging, open-minded educators, a few philanthropists and companies that value a community’s health and well-being.

Donations have provided skates, skis and other equipment to keep the program going, and growing.

Supporters Bradford and Maureen Lasky found the program to be the perfect fit for their passion for skiing and the philanthropic goals of their donor advised fund.

“I have a love — as does Maureen has a love — for the skiing world,” Bradford says.

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Maureen and Bradford Lasky, pictured in Beaver Creek, Colo., are passionate about skiing and love that through, their Donor Advised Fund with the Foundation, they can support a Dr. Eric’s Skate Club and ski and skate school lessons through Oshkosh’s public schools.

Bradford spent a few years after college teaching snowboarding in Beaver Creek, Colo. “Seeing the kids progress and gain confidence, and being a part of that development, is really rewarding to see,” he says.

“I think what it does is it keeps kids active in the wintertime, which I think is a very important piece, and some of what it does — and this is what I saw when I was teaching — is the confidence that it builds in the kids, and to teach them to take a risk, to learn and to grow.”

Eliasen, an Oshkosh Area School District Board member and International Youth Sailing of Oshkosh executive director, and Smitneek, a physician, have been working to expose children to outdoor recreation for years.

In the warm months, International Youth Sailing teaches youth in public and private schools in Oshkosh how to sail. In the winter, the program morphs into skate and ski lessons for all public grade school students. In addition, each Thursday anywhere from 40 to 100 students from the Lighted Schoolhouse program at Webster Stanley Elementary skate as part of Dr. Eric’s Skate Club after school.

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Steve Eliasen instructs Webster Stanley Elementary School Students on the basics of cross country skiing during a February field trip at Miller’s Bay.

The idea for the ski and skate lessons came as Eliasen and Smitneek were cross-country skiing across Miller’s Bay one Sunday morning, admiring the amazingly smooth surface of the ice in the bay.

“Initially, we thought why don’t’ we get these kids, especially the kids right across the street at Webster, out on the ice skating,” Eliasen said.

The idea grew, and soon donors, including Bradford and Maureen Lasky, quickly stepped up to support it. Sponsors were excited about it, too, with ThedaCare supporting the purchase of skates, the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin supporting helmets and Play It Again Sports helping with the bulk purchase of both helmets and skates. Expanding the program to each public grade school student was embraced by teachers and principals throughout the district.

“For me, without sailing and skiing, I would not be the person I am today,” says Eliasen. “I had a great career in photography and I don’t’ know if I would have had that without skiing.”

Eliasen and Smiltneek are persistent in their search for funding sources to acquire more equipment in more sizes as the program expands. The program has included Saturday morning learn-to-ski sessions at Garbage Hill, and a downhill ski club trip to Nordic Mountain on Sundays. Of course, Mother Nature has limited those opportunities this year.

Last school year, Eliasen also coordinated a ski trip for a small group of students to go skiing in Mont-Tremlant, Quebec, which will be offered again this year.

“Steve he has seen the success in the sailing program and that it’s possible to reach every child,” says Lasky, and that exposure may grow into a lifelong love and passion. Even the small moments can make a big difference.

To support the sailing, skating and skiing experiences for Oshkosh students, please contact Karlene Grabner at Karlene@oshkoshareacf.org or 920-426-3993.