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How United Through Reading Makes Storytime Special

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(Anchored Roots/Courtesy of United Through Reading)

Schools are closed all over the country right now. As many as 16 states have closed schools for the rest of the academic year; some boldly enough are closed "until further notice." Added to this are day care closures, parents working from home, and a whole lot of uncertainty.

But one thing continues: storytime. In fact, it may actually be on the upswing.

Staying connected digitally is incredibly important, as we all practice social distancing. Over the last two weeks, we've seen an influx of celebrities and authors starting virtual storytime so that kids can enjoy their favorite books from the comforts of home.

Military spouses are no strangers to solo parenting during times of separation, but we also rely on our village to help. Virtual storytimes build a digital village, allowing a beloved family member or friend to provide that extra support, even when they can't be there in person.

For 30 years, United Through Reading (UTR) has connected military families with virtual storytime, maintaining those important family connections while service members are away from home.

"We've seen the incredible impact that virtual storytime has on our military families and now, while families are finding their new routines at home, we're proud to continue serving them during these new routines," says Dr. Sally Ann Zoll, CEO of United Through Reading.

Storytime for Everyone

Kids who may not be reading yet, including babies, are constantly listening and learning from the world around them. Put a familiar face and voice, like mom, dad or a grandparent, on the screen, and they also are able to create bonds, just as if that person were reading to them in the same room.

Tiffany Hale, a Navy spouse, used United Through Reading during a recent deployment. Her youngest daughter was less than a year old when the deployment began but, with UTR recordings, you would never know how little time she had spent with her dad when he came home.

"With books and videos, she knew who Daddy was. As soon as she saw him, she said, 'Dada,' and ran to him. It was so cool that she knew who he was; it was really special," Hale said.

If you are working from home with your kids now that day care is closed, UTR videos can help your little ones have storytime with you or another loved one while you get some work done (or even just take a break -- don't worry, we won't tell).

Help with Learning from Home

At school, most children are used to multiple opportunities to read in the classroom environment. Luckily, academic experiences such as "read to self" time and "guided reading" can be supported by a recording. Research shows that listening to a book provides many of the same benefits as visual reading, and can even assist in identifying and decoding new words, thanks to the auditory cues provided by the recording.

Additionally, it can be used to support important reading comprehension activities to ensure that children are able to identify the main topics and supporting details in a story. UTR recordings provide a relevant and technologically savvy way to assist a child to develop reading skills.

Nine-year-old Emmalynn Boblett learned to read alongside her dad while he is on the other side of the world.

"United Through Reading has helped me to read better. I have trouble reading because I am dyslexic. When Daddy reads to me, I can listen to the words and I can follow along by looking at the pictures and words in the book," she said.

Make a recording from your child's school book list to help them build comprehension skills and get read-aloud time with another parent. This allows the service member to help with virtual schooling even while they are at work.

Enjoy Storytime with Your Kids

The other benefit of virtual storytime? You get a little break!

While you should definitely still read to your kid, too, you have some help with virtual storytime, whether it's Josh Gad, your spouse or another relative or friend. Press play and relax (or do that one chore that you really can't do with kids underfoot).

How It Works

Service members can make recordings right now with the free UTR app, and then start recording.

Start with a book on your bookshelf and then request a new free book from UTR's online ordering form.

Just as you may visit your local library to pick out new favorites, or your school-aged kids may visit the school library for a new book to read, browse UTR's library of more than 100 books to find a new favorite that can be delivered right to your door. There is no limit to how many books you can order, as long as you keep making recordings.

Jessica Hall is director of marketing and communications for United Through Reading and an Army spouse. Her daughters love storytime and, during her husband's last deployment, he recorded books with United Through Reading for them to read along with him.

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