Book Rx: A summer reading campaign to boost school prep and parent involvement.

Books serve many purposes for early learners. Children can bond with their parents or caregivers by reading together. For young readers, books help prevent the “summer slide” of losing the gains they’ve made in school during vacation. And having a couple of books helps children with few possessions feel like they have something that is just theirs. Every summer, book giveaways pop up all over cities nationwide, through initiatives from the National Book Foundation and other nonprofits partnering with libraries, booksellers, even the Department of Housing and Urban Development to hand out books to children in need.

This spring, Guilford County Schools (GCS) approached us to help launch a summer reading campaign to not only stave off the summer slide but also increase family engagement through early literacy. GCS was awarded new federal funding and decided to launch a program specifically for kids in kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms at its 49 Title I schools. In partnership with the district’s Parent Academy, we created a giveaway program and literacy campaign to get kids excited about reading over the summer.

Literacy is a major focus for Guilford County Schools, as is the opportunity to foster a love of learning, even during the school break. Our challenge was to design a program that would sustain that interest despite the lure of television, a game system or other enticing summer activities. So, we designed a program that highlighted the fun of reading—taking a break from the world outside and escaping someplace else—while shoring it up with incentives like fun giveaways and progress check-ins. We made sure to select prizes that reinforced the point of the campaign, reading, which is why the grand prize for readers who completed the challenge was an Amazon Kindle.

The collaboration presented an opportunity to draw on our knowledge of children’s education, parent involvement and literacy to design a program and see it through to implementation. We know the importance of building reading skills early and continuously; unfortunately, not all children have access to resources that support this goal. Differing abilities to tap into summer enrichment create gaps between students when they go back to school. With Guilford County Schools, we had the chance to do something tangible and central to counter the summer slide, no matter their families’ income.

Our work with many education-focused clients has also highlighted the role family plays in making the most of learning opportunities, something that became central to Break with a Book. What made this summer reading campaign especially effective in—fortunately—a crowded field of book giveaways was the emphasis on family involvement, an idea born out of a partnership with Guilford Parent Academy. Family involvement plays a major role in how children grow and learn, and it’s something that we see emphasized again and again in the research about what effective programs should include. When families take an active role in children’s learning, they are more attuned to their children’s strengths and can spot areas needing improvement. They can work with teachers to make sure kids are exploring their interests or that they’re getting support in the classroom. Most importantly, involvement helps families bond emotionally because they may be reading aloud together at night, talking about what’s happening in the story and becoming more aware of how children process what they learn and how they feel about it. For the Break with a Book campaign, we created materials in English and Spanish so that families can converse with their student about their books in their native language, ultimately making the reading initiative not just about summer enrichment, but also about improving family engagement with learning.

While summer reading campaigns serve a multitude of purposes for children, they help families in a number of unexpected ways as well. It’s projects like this, where we can design a meaningful campaign that addresses so many topics we and our clients care about—equity, education, family involvement—that really highlight the power of social impact marketing.