Wilton Reading Buddies Make Intergenerational Connections
WILTON – Wilton Congregational Church has found a creative way to reach young people in the community: read to them.
The Reading Buddies program is a 12-week afterschool activity that takes place on Tuesday afternoons. Children in grades K-2 come to the Wilton church where they are met by high school students, retired teachers, or librarians. After a snack and an opening activity, the children sit down and listen as volunteers read award-winning children's books by authors like Mo Willems, Geronimo Stilton, and Lauren Child.
The program started as a 6-week pilot program last spring. Candice Dolberry, Wilton's Director of Children and Family Ministry, says in addition to focusing on character development and literacy, the time the children spend with volunteers gives the children a place to decompress. It also bridges a generation gap.
"It's really about relationship building," says Dolberry. "It's building a connection between these people."
The books are part of the AfterSchool KidzBooks, a program distributed by the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, a nonprofit educational organization that provides curricula that support the "academic, ethical, and social development of children." Wilton purchases sets of books with guide books and training materials. To offset some of this cost, the Reading Buddies program charges participants $40 for the 12-week session. Each session runs 90 minutes and includes snack and some activities to go with the book reading. Volunteers rotate every three weeks to give children and adults a chance to interact with new people.
The literacy goals of the program are accomplished through the variety of literature genres and authors used. The age-level book sets include fiction and non-fiction titles by many recognizable authors. A component of the program called "Cool Words" identifies vocabulary words that children and adults discuss before and during the stories. According to Dolberry, the children are encouraged to discuss connections they see to their own lives and to other books they've read. Post-reading activities help children continue to make those connections and stimulate conversations with volunteers.
Dolberry says the program has been widely successful. There are 16 children and 7 volunteers participating in the current session. In addition to making intergenerational connections, some of the non-member children and their families have started attending Sunday worship. Others have participated in community events such as Wilton's "Trunk or Treat" Halloween program, a event with games, activities, and an alternative to door-to-door trick or treating where church members line up vehicles where children can go trunk-to-trunk to gather treats.