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ReadBoston Storymobile starts up summer program

Sandra Larson | 7/30/2015, 6 a.m.
Over the coming weeks, more than 400 Read Boston events will be held in 80 locations around the city, including ...
eller Ben Cunningham poses with Myles Esteves, who received a new book at a ReadBoston event in Marcella Park in Roxbury. Photo by Sandra Larson

The bright green ReadBoston Storymobile van pulled up at Roxbury’s Marcella Park July 9 at 1:15 p.m., as it will every Thursday through mid-August. Professional storyteller Ben Cunningham regaled a group of youngsters with dramatic tales populated with monkeys, bears and a mysterious group of “ynnubs” all animated with physical movement and sound effects. About 20 children seated on the grass listened, laughed and called out their guesses on what might happen next.

When Cunningham’s stories came to an end, a representative of ReadBoston, the city of Boston’s early literacy initiative, brought out a variety of new books and invited all the children to choose one to take home.

Ben Cunningham entertains children at a ReadBoston event in Marcella Park in Roxbury.

Ben Cunningham entertains children at a ReadBoston event in Marcella Park in Roxbury.

On the Web

ReadBoston info & Storymobile calendar:

www.readboston.org

www.facebook.com/ReadBoston

Research & tips on summer learning loss:

National Summer Learning Association: http://www.summerlearning.org/?page=know_the_facts

Reading is Fundamental: http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/articles/keeping-kids-off-the-summer-slide.htm

Simone Miles Esteves came with her three-and-a-half-year-old son, Myles. Clutching a miniature basketball under one arm, Myles chose “Pete the Cat” to read at home.

The two have been coming to Storymobile events since Myles was a baby, said Esteves, who lives near the park in the Fort Hill neighborhood.

“He really enjoys reading, and listening to stories,” she said. “The sound effects are great for him.”

This was one of many sessions in ReadBoston’s opening week of summer programs. Over the coming weeks, more than 400 events will be held in 80 locations around the city, including neighborhood parks, community centers, summer camps and library branches.

The free summer program has been operating for 15 years, said ReadBoston Executive Director Theresa Lynn, and the storytelling is geared toward ages 3 to 8. This year, some sessions will operate from a “Book Bike,” a bicycle with a built-in activity table, she said, and in addition to the six weeks of storytelling, a closing week from Aug. 17 to 21 includes special events at Spectacle Island, Jamaica Pond and the U.S.S. Constitution Museum.

Recent research shows that students in lower-income families tend to fall behind an average of two months in reading each summer, while their more affluent peers often gain skills. This disparity can have a cumulative affect over the years. Studies indicate that by ninth grade, years of academic “summer slide” may account for two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers.

Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit devoted to children’s literacy, offers tips to keep children engage in reading over the summer. Recommendations for families include having books and magazines around the house, reading aloud, visiting the library regularly and combining books with other summer activities. For example, parents could encourage children to read a book about baseball before going to a game, or pack some books along with the buckets and shovels when heading to the beach. Simply talking to children — using words to describe the sights and sounds of an everyday bus trip or visit to the store — also helps build and maintain language skills.

ReadBoston works with schools, daycare centers and after-school programs to strengthen literacy development during the school year, while the summer Storymobile helps curb summer learning loss.

“The academic slide is a very addressable problem,” said ReadBoston’s Lynn. “One of the best ways to address it is to give kids access to just six books a summer. If they go to a [Storymobile] program just once a week, it’s pushing them in a good direction.”