As a classroom teacher nearly 20 years ago, it was unfathomable to think that children across Florida could get free books and activities delivered to their homes from a state program.
At that time, I was teaching in one county and living in another. I struggled with missing my own child’s school activities. My challenges as a parent informed my goals as a teacher: to ensure that there were multiple avenues for all parents to “be involved,” not just those who could be present at school. I gained a profound awareness of the importance of offering various methods for caregivers to engage in their child’s learning.
The window from voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) to fifth grade is a critical time to help students develop and hone the literacy skills that are the foundation for so much in life. Literacy is not just a skill; it’s a fundamental aspect of individual and societal development, impacting education, employment, health and overall well-being. A perennial challenge for educators is finding ways for students to stay engaged in reading, both in the classroom and outside of it.
Today, families can use free state resources like New Worlds Reading. Signed into law in 2021 with bipartisan support, New Worlds Reading is Florida’s at-home literacy program that strives to support Florida students in strengthening their literacy skills and sparking excitement about reading.
The program mails free books and reading activities to eligible VPK to fifth grade students who are not yet reading on grade level in VPK programs, public schools and charter schools. Kids choose the books they’ll receive as a special package addressed to them that builds their eagerness to read each month.
To me, what is especially important about the program is that it meets families where they are, including parents and caregivers. New Worlds Reading books come with reading activities and resources intended to build caregivers’ confidence and capacity to support their child’s reading development by providing strategies and tools to encourage meaningful engagement. These resources all reinforce science of reading strategies, making them an extension of what goes on in the child’s classroom. Because books come in a variety of languages, caregivers who do not speak English as their native language can still enjoy the books and activities with their children.
As a former teacher, I also appreciate that the program was designed to supplement efforts in the classroom without adding to educators’ already full plates. Part of the program’s comprehensive approach is to offer educators free professional learning resources to expand their knowledge and skills while reinforcing science of reading strategies.
While New Worlds Reading is still in its early stages, preliminary findings suggest that the program is making a mark. Ninety percent of families in the program say they love the resources and would recommend the program; 83% of caregivers say they spend more time reading with their children; 86% of children are reading more often and more confidently; and 55% of children have seen improvement in reading.
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Today, there are more than 956,000 Florida VPK to fifth grade students who are not yet meeting grade-level expectations in literacy. While many are already enjoying the benefits of New Worlds Reading — eagerly opening their books each month — many more who are eligible are not yet enrolled.
During the recent Celebrate Literacy Week, I reflected both on where we’ve been in my time as a classroom teacher and on where we’re going. New Worlds Reading is just getting started, and we are partnering with other organizations on a variety of fronts, from connecting literacy and nutrition security to exploring innovative reading technology to engage children and families. You can help to ensure that students benefit from New Worlds Reading’s books and resources by encouraging eligible families to apply today.
Shaunté Duggins is associate director for the New Worlds Reading Initiative, which is administered by the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning. The center’s mission is to improve the quality of teaching, learning and child care with the goal of putting all learners on trajectories for lifelong success.
About New Worlds Reading
Who is eligible?
VPK children in Florida who are not making age-appropriate progress according to FAST Star Early Literacy and kindergarten to fifth grade students who are not yet reading on grade level in a public or charter school are eligible.
How do I apply?
Eligible parents or caregivers can apply at newworldsreading.com.
How are the books selected?
All books are selected in collaboration with the Florida Department of Education. Books are based on children’s interests, grade level and Florida B.E.S.T. Standards, and include both fiction and nonfiction books in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Braille.