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The WOW! Reading Challenge: a competitive way to inspire a love of reading

A little boy reads a book in a library. –123RF Stock photo
A little boy reads a book in a library. –123RF Stock photo - Contributed

The People’s Place in Antigonish, and the other libraries under the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library banner, are calling upon the youth of Antigonish and Pictou Counties to do one thing; read.
With the upcoming launch of the WOW! Reading Challenge, this will be an opportunity for youth to do more of that – competitively, to boot.

John Kennedy, co-ordinator for the Adopt-a-Library Literacy Program, said the reading challenge is putting a competitive spin on the age-old pastime of reading for pleasure.
“We made the sport of literacy out of it, trying to get kids to exercise their mind. The more they exercise their mind with the sport of reading, the smarter they become,” Kennedy said.

The Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library founded the reading challenge 12 years ago, along with the help of Kennedy, a retired member of the RCMP.

Kennedy said the program was the result of a conversation between himself and library staff, on how to get younger people motivated to read more. “We started [a reading challenging] in Salt Springs Elementary as a trial, to see how many books the kids could read in a one-month period,” Kennedy said, noting it only evolved and grew from that point.

The original slogan of the program, Kennedy noted, was, “fighting crime, one book at a time,” implying the belief that “if we help the kids read today, we can keep them out of jail tomorrow.” Literacy skills, they agreed, were key to achieving that.

“It’s now a literacy championship. Any school in the world can join – it doesn’t cost anything,” he said of the program, which is managed by the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library.
As the reading challenge happens every year, more and more youth are voraciously reading. Kennedy noted that, in past years, students have been going through so many school library books, their thirst for more has been bringing them to local libraries.

“It’s a lot of fun. If we can get young people hooked on reading early on in life, they’re going to read for their entire life,” Kennedy said. “If we can get them started at pre-school, by the time they hit Grade 3 or 4, they’re reading and enjoying books.”

The reading challenge includes divisions for participants of all ages – from daycares and pre-schools to high school-level reading, and people of all ages are encouraged to participate.
New this year to the challenge will be private, separate and home schools.

“It worked exactly as planned, in a sense,” Kennedy said. “The more time kids spend in libraries, the less they’ll spend roaming around the streets with nothing to do. They bought into it a lot stronger than I even thought they would. We’re reaching about 16,000 students a year, who are participating in this.”
The WOW! Reading Challenge runs Nov. 1 to April 1, a timeline intended to encourage reading throughout the academic year. About 80 schools in Nova Scotia participate in the program at the elementary level, averaging about a million books a year in the program.
At the junior high and high school levels, the average pages read by all students participating is just more than a million, “but last year was an exceptional year and they read 1.7 million pages – quite a jump over what we expected,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy stressed that the benefits of programs like the reading challenge are manifold.
“What we found from teachers involved in the program is that reading keeps the kids busy on days they can’t go outside due to the weather, and two, it occupies them, so they don’t have downtime,” Kennedy said. “In some cases, regular reading has helped with eliminating bullying in schools.”

“What we’re doing is unique, so I don’t have any other literacy program to compare this to. But in my mind, anytime you can get over 16,000 people reading in a contest that spans six months, and they’re reading the number of pages and books they’re reading – that shows me we’re on the right track.”

Kennedy also attributes a decline in bullying to it being a team program where often, the children who struggle with reading get assistance from the more proficient readers, since students have to work together to be successful.

“In essence, students tutor other students without them even knowing they’re tutoring them,” Kennedy said. “It’s much the same as in hockey or baseball, where the more you practice, the better you become.”
The challenge is free, and open to all schools, preschools, private and separates schools and home schools in Pictou and Antigonish counties.


Want to join?

To register a school or preschool, contact Karen MacNeill at kmacneil@nsgp.library.ns.ca, 902-755-6031 or 1-1866-779-7761.
For schools outside of Pictou or Antigonish counties, contact John Kennedy at aal@parl.ns.ca, 902-755-6031 or 1-866-779-7761.

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