Reading Hour

Reading Hour has grown exponentially since its pilot session in 2013. The reading mentor program is currently active at 12 different child care centers throughout the New River Valley. Each of our 90 volunteers are paired with a child in one of these centers, and they read together every week for half an hour.

The program will soon be implemented into 7 new centers, and 20 additional volunteers plan to begin their service with Reading Hour in January. 

There are ample benefits of reading aloud to children while they are young. Through this program, we hope to encourage children to develop a love of reading and provide them with a positive mentor.

Songs and Literacy

Katie SimkoThis past fall, I began my year of service with AmeriCorps as a Family Literacy Resource Specialist. Going in, my expectation was that I would get to read to some children and work with some volunteers but I never expected to learn so much from these preschools I work with and children I am in contact with. One particular center I have been working with utilizes songs to designate certain routines and even to calm the children down. I found that so interesting and was baffled at how well it worked so I decided to so some research on why it is so effective.

It is well known that the ability to read is a precursor to success in both school and life for a child. By the age of 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers. Research shows us that rhymes and songs are great tools to develop strong literacy skills and ensure that every child has the skills and tools necessary to be successful. Singing songs throughout the day can make a child more aware of the sounds and repetitions of letters. When these songs are used repetitively day after day, children become aware of patterns and sounds associated with words or phrases and they increase the number of words in their vocabulary. Not only are these songs and rhymes beneficial to the children’s development, many children will identify them as a fun part of their day! The link below has more information and some great ideas for songs to incorporate in to any child’s life! There are songs about all different topics out there, from brushing your teeth to rhyming songs about peter piper and I am having a great time learning some of them and watching them effect the lives of the children I have the privilege to work with!

-Katie Simko

NRV to Benefit from Three Grant Proposals

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation was awarded a $17.5 million Preschool Expansion grant which will serve 11 Virginia localities including 2 new VPI+ classrooms in Giles County.

Total Action for Progress has been selected to negotiate for $2.7 million for Early Head Start for the NRV and Greater Roanoke Region with 60 slots in the NRV.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia received a Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth grant for the Southwest Region Star Quality Initiative for $180,000 over 3 years for curriculum and training to help children make healthy choices. 

NRCC's Early Learning Center

New River Community College’s Early Learning Center received a star-quality rating from the Virginia Star Quality Initiative and Smart Beginnings in August, 2014.

The Early Learning Center serves as a lab school for college students in New River Community College’s Early Childhood Education Program. The center provides high-quality educational programming for three to five year old children in the area.

The leaders of the child care center, including Linda Claussen, who served as program director for the ELC from 1978 until 2005, Bonnie Graham, the program head of Human Services and Early Childhood Education, Sherry Townsend, and Kayla Smith, ELC lead teachers, celebrated their rating in October with Delegates Joseph Yost and Nick Rush. David Moore was honored to participate in the celebration as well. 


Phil Mun Loves Volunteering with Reading Hour

“Coming into this program, I thought I would be teaching a child to read on a higher level.  But in reality, the child I read to has actually taught me to be more patient with others and how to communicate effectively with children.” –Volunteer, Phil Mun

Liz Singanong Describes Her AmeriCorps Experience

“When this AmeriCorps position fell into my lap, I had no idea where to start. We had our orientations and I met with my centers and to be completely honest, I still didn’t know what in the world I was doing until probably around last month. But I think that was one of the best parts about it. We were given this program that has literally been started from scratch and have been able to watch it grow. I think the most rewarding thing thus far has been to see the program fall into place. Twice a week, I get to watch the partners interact, and each time it’s the best part of my entire week. I’ve watched the kids come out of their shells and their mentors form a bond that keeps them coming back as well. Reading Hour has been such an amazing experience and I’m sad to see this semester already coming to an end but thrilled for what the next one will hold!” –Liz Singanong


AmeriCorps Grant

Smart Beginnings received an AmeriCorps grant that provides eight 300-hour and two 675-hour volunteers. These volunteers are “Family Literacy Resource Specialists” who are the center coordinators for Reading Hour.


The Blank Book Project

by Taylor Wills

The children grazed their markers against the thick white sheets, coloring in the pictures that had been stenciled onto the page the night before. “I love to color,” spoke Maycie as she gave her lion the last spark of life with a brown mane.

As the joy carried around the room, you could hear the incessant screaming: “Look at this picture! No, look at mine!”

From the moment the books landed into the classroom to the minute all of our Reading Hour Volunteers departed, having left behind the books to bring home to their families, the children were ecstatic. I would say our Christmas Reading Hour was a complete success.

My elementary school teacher inspired the Blank Book Project, and the idea stuck with me throughout my adolescence. A few months ago, I thought it would be the perfect way to end a successful semester of reading hour.

I had to determine how ten, three and four year olds, were going to be interested in making their own books. Then, appealing to the children was the next goal. I wanted to ensure that all of the children had meaningful experiences creating their books: animals seemed to be the favorite theme of the classroom; therefore, it seemed fitting to invite them into our project.

Using animal stickers, and storylines that explained specific animal habits, I decided to write a book about a zoo. Each page included a specific animal, and something that they do, or eat. The blank spaces around the animals and stencils were used for the children to color and add individuality to each book. 

By the end, all sounds were mute except those of the children sharing their books to each other. 

Job One Business Leader's Breakfast

About 80 business leaders from the New River and Roanoke Valley region attended a” Smart Beginnings: Job One” event recently to learn more about the role of quality early learning as the foundation for workforce success. The Business Leaders Breakfast was hosted by Smart Beginnings New River Valley and Smart Beginnings Greater Roanoke.

Barry DuVal, President and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, was a featured speaker. DuVal spearheaded the Virginia Chamber’s Blueprint Virginia statewide initiative to provide elected officials with a strategic roadmap for economic competitiveness in the Commonwealth. Blueprint Virginia highlights the direct link between a strong start in the early years and a vibrant, productive workforce.

“Virginia’s economic well-being is inextricably linked to the education and skills of its citizens,” said DuVal. “Quality early childhood development and education are critical for children’s success in school and ultimately to building a strong workforce in Virginia.”

Ben J. Davenport, Jr., Chairman of First Piedmont Corporation in Chatham, Va., and Chairman of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF), remarked, “Virginia’s business community has long recognized that the talent pool for the future workforce begins with young children who start school healthy and ready to learn.”

According to Davenport, Smart Beginnings: Job One is a VECF initiative to engage local business leaders and early childhood stakeholders, and to build on those partnerships to establish a stronger and sustained network of local business leadership in communities throughout Virginia.

“Every company is seeking smart, skilled employees who are well-qualified for 21st century jobs, particularly positions requiring technical expertise,” said Doug Juanarena, Vice President and Site Leader of Rackspace Blacksburg, an open cloud company with an IT hosting operation in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Montgomery County. “When young children have access to enriching early learning experiences, they are building the foundation for success in school and in their future careers.”




Blacksburg Children's Museum

Children at the Blacksburg Children's MuseumThe Blacksburg Children’s Museum understands the benefits of play time.

At the learning playground in the Blacksburg Children’s Museum, there are various exhibits called “spots” where children can play. These include The Theater Spot, The Grocery Spot, and The Reading Spot along with several others. 

The Museum’s wish list includes things such as glue, markers, scissors, construction paper, tape, etc., and monetary donations are always welcomed. People may also donate their time as a volunteer as long as they are fourteen years of age—the center is currently staffed by volunteers.

The Museum is located in the First and Main Shopping Center and is open Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Admission is $5 per person.