KLRU is a good neighbor because they build lifelong learners and readers.

Posted on Feb 4, 2019

For eight years, the staff members at Wooten Elementary have been encouraging community among students by pairing kindergarteners with third and fourth grade reading instructors. This little kid/big kid partnership is a cornerstone of KLRU’s Martha Speaks Reading Buddies program.

Educators like kindergarten teacher Emily Placette and third grade teacher Hal Wolpo go the extra mile, opting in their classrooms for the Reading Buddies program. This extra activity requires carving out space in the day for their students to head to the library once a week for 10 weeks, as well as integrating and reinforcing the lessons from Reading Buddies within class, including practicing new words and providing students with extra reading time. Four out of the six classrooms in the program are bilingual, with many of the kindergartners starting out as Spanish-only speakers, so the extra language learning time is well worth the effort.

Mr. Wolpo notes, “Just being introduced to the new vocabulary is very helpful. Research shows the more vocabulary the students have, the better reading comprehension skills they will have and be better readers.”

The academic pros go hand-in-hand with the social benefits these kids receive. For a five-year-old, nothing says confidence boost like knowing a “big kid” and interacting like peers. Ms. Placette observes that “it’s cool in the hallways to see the kinder students saying hi to their older mentor.”

And the older participants are just as proud of the relationships they forge with the kindergarteners — after all, many of them were little buddies themselves a few years ago. They put a lot of effort into making sure their collaborative work is beneficial for their young partners. Before the Reading Buddies program begins for the kindergartners, the third and fourth graders work with Wooten Elementary’s librarian to go over the 10-week curriculum and finalize lesson plans. Each session always includes a video, educational games and activities, from making puppets to tic-tac-toe, and reading a new book. The mentor and mentee also keep a journal together, detailing their weekly progress as a team.

“My favorite moments from the program have been observing the older buddies reading to my kiddos and really showing how to read with expression and enthusiasm — it gives them an authentic purpose for doing that, to keep the kinder students engaged and also to share their love of reading with them,” Ms. Placette said.

The positive impact on the children is clear to the teachers. Dedication to this program from educators is why the Martha Speaks Reading Buddies program is now entering its ninth year, setting up another group of little kids and big kids on their journey toward reading, writing and friendship.


Sponsored by a grant from 3M Foundation