Friday, April 10, 2020

Make Way for Books opens the door to early childhood literacy

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 2:09 PM

click to enlarge Make Way For Books' app provides free books for young children, along with literacy tips for their parents. The local nonprofit recently launched a Facebook story time series open to any family with young children. - COURTESY PHOTO
Courtesy photo
Make Way For Books' app provides free books for young children, along with literacy tips for their parents. The local nonprofit recently launched a Facebook story time series open to any family with young children.
With libraries and schools closed there are families across Pima County without reliable access to free or low-cost books, but adventures are available in the palm of your hand thanks to Make Way for Books’ smartphone app.

The literacy nonprofit works with families with young children ages 0 to 5 in order to empower them with the skills and confidence they need to be their child’s most important teacher, according to Fernando González, the Digital Director of Make Way for Books.

Too often, children enter kindergarten lacking important early literacy skills. Make Way for Books goes out into the community to provide programming so families can access high-quality literacy aid.

Normally, their work consists of a couple of strategies, including the Family Education and Literacy, The Story Project and Neighborhood School Readiness Project programs, which provide literacy aid both in and out of the home. The Story Project, for instance, includes at-home education, on-site workshops, and lending libraries.

According to González, Make Way for Books tries to provide a two-generational approach in which parents are there with their kids providing a reading lesson while also learning explicit strategies on how to share books with their children.


“We try to support all the adults in a child’s life,” González said, adding that pre-kindergarten and home care professionals can receive training and materials as well.

Those programs were in full swing before public life came to a screeching halt last month when states across the nation (including Arizona) issued stay-home orders. Now, Make Way for Books is looking to its smartphone app to lead the way.

The app was launched in 2016 as a supplement to the programming the nonprofit provided in-person.

According to the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of Americans owned a smartphone in 2019. With so many hands holding phones, Make Way for Books had an opportunity to provide even more help.

The first iteration of the app recommended books that families could rent from the nearest Pima County Public Library and provided literacy tips, and has since grown to include immediately accessible (and free) “Read Now” titles.


The ebooks are available in both English and Spanish. González said they’re also producing video content to introduce different concepts to make reading more engaging and easy to digest, and all activities are grounded in Arizona Early Learning Standards.

“In response to the situation we’re in right now, the app can effectively replicate the experience that we were giving to families via our programming along with the access to books,” González said. “When we would meet in person, we would always give out books to families.”

The app also helps fill what González called a “dearth” of high-quality books digitally available in Spanish.

“Being bilingual has all kinds of benefits later on in life,” he said. “But apart from that...we are targeting the parents. We’re trying to support parents in having loving interactions with their children, around books. Oftentimes, we find that families that we serve, especially here in our community but all around Arizona, we have families that speak other languages at home and they’re more comfortable with their home language.”

Make Way for Books has a strong connection to Pima County Public Library and often encourages people to use their local library as a resource. They want to expand in the future to more library systems across the state.

Apart from the app, the nonprofit recently launched online storytime events through its Facebook page. Any family with children or community partners can join the group, and the reads are shared as live streams.

You can still get a library card while following Arizona’s stay-home order by sending a picture of your driver’s license, photo ID, mail or legal document with an address and name with a preferred location, email or phone preference, email address if you have one, telephone number, four-digit PIN number for the library card and language preference.

Send that information to askalibrarian@pima.gov. The library will email you a card you can immediately use online to rent ebooks, audiobooks, music and more.

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