How to get kids to read? Get their parents to do it with them at school.

Families participated in a Prime Time Family Reading program in Garrard County. Kentucky Humanities has received a grant that will allow it to offer the program in 40 Kentucky schools over the next two years.
Families participated in a Prime Time Family Reading program in Garrard County. Kentucky Humanities has received a grant that will allow it to offer the program in 40 Kentucky schools over the next two years. Kentucky Humanities

For many parents, snuggling up on the couch with their children to enjoy a good book before bed is one of the best parts of family life.

But for some families, that doesn’t come naturally.

“In a lot of cases, they don’t even have books in the home,” said Kathleen Pool, associate director of Kentucky Humanities.

Enter the Prime Time Family Reading Program, a six-week family literacy program that helps parents learn to connect with their kids through reading. Each week, parents and their children gather for dinner, then engage with a professional storyteller and a university scholar who read with them and discuss classic children’s books centered around themes of fairness, greed, courage and dreams.

Kentucky Humanities has received a $100,000 matching grant to expand the program into 40 Kentucky schools. The grant will allow the organization to offer Prime Time in 20 schools in 2018 and 20 in 2019.

The independent, non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities has offered Prime Time in Kentucky libraries since 2004.

The program, targeted at reluctant readers who are 6 to 10 years old, has been shown to increase the frequency of reading at home among participating families, which in turn helps children become better readers and make greater gains in school.

“It’s really for the parents, but we don’t tell them that,” Pool said. “By the end of six weeks, they’ve developed a new habit and they don’t want it to end.”

Over the years, the council has hosted more than 200 Prime Time programs in 81 counties.

“We take away all the obstacles so that they can come,” Pool said.

Partnering libraries provide dinner, door prizes and child care for younger children. Families needing transportation are offered help getting to the meetings via taxi, school bus or a city bus pass, Pool said.

Oftentimes, the children are from families for whom English is a second language, and the program provides translators and materials in their native tongue.

Parents are encouraged to further their own educations, Pool said.

But Pool said there have been challenges. Prime Time’s funding sources have shrunk over the years, and the program has been cobbling together smaller grants from various sources.

Schools are reluctant to share the names of children who should attend with libraries because of privacy laws, she said. Sometimes, libraries expend a lot of effort but end up with a low turnout.

So, Kentucky Humanities decided to offer Prime Time directly in schools.

West Irvine Intermediate School offered the program in the spring and fall of 2017. The Estill County Cooperative Extension Service provided dinner for participants each week.

“It was so instrumental for bringing the community together,” said West Irvine Principal Charlotte Arvin.

Arvin said she’d been looking for help raising reading levels.

“It was really just a match made for our school,” she said. “We chose topics that we felt would help us meet a multitude of needs,” such as friendship, citizenship “and just making the right kind of choices.”

“I wish the whole school had been there. It was amazing to watch how the parents started interacting with books with their children,” she said.

She said the children benefited from “hearing someone who isn’t a teacher talk about a book,” and parents picked up ideas on how to work reading time into a busy schedule.

Patricia Dixon’s 9-year-old son, Daniel, really came out of his shell.

“I know he was struggling with reading before,” Dixon said.

Now, she said, his reading level is up, and his math scores have improved.

Hearing that there was no right or wrong answer when talking about books freed Daniel to share his thoughts more openly, Dixon said.

“He interacts,” his mother said. “He keeps his hand up in the air a lot.”

“By the end, he really could lead a book circle,” Arvin said. “He could make the connections between books.”

The Prime Time program is one of 253 humanities projects that will share $12.8 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the endowment announced Dec. 13.

Four other Kentucky organizations also received NEH grants. The Hindman Settlement School and Appalshop each received preservation assistance grants for $6,000 to help preserve their collections, while the Boone County Public Library received a similar grant for $7,000 to preserve local history materials. The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in Louisville received a common heritage grant for $12,000.

Pool said a call to schools should go out early this year for applications to participate in Prime Time.