When families attending the 2018 State Fair arrived at the massive 250-acre site, most did not expect to leave with a free book. Nor did they expect to have the chance to read with the Cat in the Hat, or Indianapolis Colts mascot Blue, or Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) leveraged its presence at the fair to highlight literacy and promote STEM learning through the distribution of 800 Pre-K through-high-school books.
The true reflection of this successful effort seen in the eyes of the children and families visiting IDOE’s interactive booth space during the first and third Saturday’s of the fair. On the first Saturday, Indianapolis Colts mascot Blue and Dr. McCormick read to dozens of children. Afterward, each child was encouraged to take a free Scholastic book. IDOE literacy specialists engaged parents in conversations about appropriate reading levels, the importance of building home libraries, and establishing regular family reading time. According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 6th Edition, the average home with children between ages 0–17 reports having 104 children’s books, but there are large disparities in the number of books for kids in the home when examining kids’ reading frequency—frequent readers report having 141 children’s books in their homes vs. 65 among infrequent readers’ homes.
A memorable book selection was made by a young couple visiting the State Fair from northern Indiana. Expecting their first child within weeks, and IDOE had the pleasure of providing their child’s first book. As the fair was closing for the day, all 400 books designated for the first Saturday had been distributed.
On the second Saturday, another beautiful Indiana August day greeted a huge crowd attending the State Fair. Once again, the centerpiece of IDOE’s booth presence was the literacy tent. Literacy specialists, along with other IDOE staff, greeted families with children as they passed through the booth area, encouraging children to join in story times, and to choose a free book.
As each child approached the two treasure chests of books, many intently reviewed the variety of choices, searching for that “perfect” book. IDOE’s literacy team gently helped guide that crucial, final choice. “Look mom, this one is about planes,” “dad, this is all about science,” and, “that lady just said I could take this book home, and we don’t have to return it,” were some of the comments shared by children appreciating the unexpected gift from Scholastic. As the fair closed, the last of the 800 books were on their way home with very happy young readers.
The opportunity to underscore the importance of literacy, STEM education, home libraries, and consistent family reading time met the goals of the Indiana Department of Education. This successful partnership will be used as a model as the Indiana Department of Education expands its impact on students across Indiana.
Creating opportunities to reach families and children with important educational messages like those focused through the IDOE presence at the Indiana State Fair is critical in today’s quickly changing public education landscape. Sharing key messages through partnerships, in places where are constituents might not expect us, and being creative in our approach, is necessary to ensure the Indiana Department of Education is continually working together with all our stakeholders for children’s success.