Tim Penny: Early reading sets a base for lifelong success

Published 5:42 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

July marks one of my favorite months at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). It is the time of year when we get to distribute more than 20,000 books to organizations that work with young children in our 20-county region.

The importance of early literacy cannot be overstated. Not only does it build a strong foundation for children’s cognitive and language development, but reading together can be an important bonding time for families. However, according to Minnesota Compass, only 49% of southern Minnesota’s third graders are proficient in reading which is just slightly above the state average. 

At a legislative level we have seen a recent push to improve this number through a renewed focus on phonics teaching. At SMIF, we have been doing our part to support reading in young children through our Early Literacy Grant program.

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This month we are distributing 22,350 books through the grant program — in English, Spanish, and bilingual formats — to 53 organizations including libraries, schools, public health organizations and child care centers. The beauty of this program lies in the fact that these books will be taken home by the children that these organizations serve, potentially sparking a lifelong love for reading.

Our Early Literacy Grant program wouldn’t be possible without the generous contributions from Minnesota-based publishing companies, ABDO and Capstone. This collaboration ensures that families have access to a diverse selection of books to read to their children, fostering a love for reading and expanding their horizons. Their consistent support through the years has enabled us to distribute more than 230,000 books throughout the region.

As we continue to invest in early literacy initiatives, we hope to witness a rise in reading proficiencies across southern Minnesota. The dedication and commitment of our partner organizations and grant recipients in nurturing the love of reading in young children is inspiring. Together, we are paving the way for a future where children are prepared for success in every aspect of life.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.