At public libraries and community centers across the country, PRIME TIME Family Reading Time brings families with children ages 6-10 together to share a meal, read together and explore humanities themes through children’s literature. This simple yet innovative program began in 1991 as an effort by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to address the state’s problem of intergenerational illiteracy and to encourage under-served families to visit their public library. Twenty three years later, with significant support from NEH, the project has expanded to serve almost 59,000 people in 41 states. PRIME TIME programs are now offered in English and Spanish and target low-income, low literacy and English language learning children and their parents.
An NEH Bridging Cultures grant supported the newest PRIME TIME series, “It’s a Small World After All: Global Citizenship Education for the 21st Century.” Taking place in five states, the programs feature award-winning children’s books chosen to promote knowledge of world cultures and global citizenship, exploring ideas such as seeking empathy for humankind, what it means to be free, sharing our planet's environment, and the need to overcome barriers of language and cultural difference. Each 90-minute session includes dinner followed by the reading of up to three books by a storyteller and a facilitated discussion led by a local scholar. The 6-8 week program, which enjoys a 94% family retention rate, also provides transportation and additional incentives such as library card sign-ups.
Led by trained scholars and storytellers, the PRIME TIME Family Reading program has a proven track record of building critical thinking skills and improving the academic performance of the children who participate. The program not only involves families in reading together – a critical step in breaking the cycle of illiteracy – but engages them in reflection and discussion of important humanities themes and questions. According to a recent study, 80.4% of participants reported a positive change in attitudes toward reading and 85% described an increase in positive family interactions and bonding. “We read even more together and separately without being told to do so,” one mother wrote. Parents also described spending more time talking with their kids about books. “I now ask questions and make sure my children have a better understanding of what we are reading,” a parent explained. Another said, “Now I really see the importance of finding lessons from books.” Librarians have also noted that participating families return to the library even after the programs have ended and often bring along friends and neighbors.