"The app approach to accessing books."
Make Way for Books, a non-profit literacy organization in Tucson, Arizona, has launched their latest interactive literacy app, providing parents and children in their community with access to books and collaborative learning opportunities.
We had the chance to speak with Fernando González, Digital Director, and Melinda Englert, Creative Director, about their work and the release of their new app. Here is what we learned about this fantastic resource!
A Little About Make Way for Books
When Dr. Mary Jan Bancroft created the non-profit in 1998, she began by providing books and literacy workshops to five under-resourced preschools in the Tucson area. Today 1 in 3 of the 0 to 5-year-olds in the community live in poverty, and Make Way for Books serves more than 30,000 children, families, and educators throughout southern Arizona annually.
The organization focuses on children ages 0-5 because 90% of children's critical brain development occurs by age 5, and the connections they make during these early years sets the stage for learning for the rest of their lives. Make Way for Books provides a variety of programs and resources to ensure young children have quality early literacy and language experiences and environments in during these years.
Their objective is three tiered: building a literacy-rich environment, supporting educators, and empowering families. They meet these objectives through a number of programs, such as:
The Story Project, a strategy which provides services, programming and resources to children, parents, and teachers at under-resourced preschools, childcare centers, and home-based care settings.
Family Education and Literacy, which provides programming for young children and families that do not have access to high-quality early education before kindergarten.
Blue Book House Project, a volunteer-intensive program which takes book donations from the community and delivers them to bookshelves provided in social services agencies, clinics, and more.
There’s also a new dimension to Make Way for Books’ programming: an app to extend literacy and language opportunities beyond programming.
About the App
The first version of the app was released in 2015 when Make Way for Books found that families in their programs wanted more access to the books and education they gained from Make Way for Books programming. Fernando said that they received a lot of positive feedback but they all knew the app could be so much more.
Since then, they have launched version 2.0 of the app, which is focused on replicating the in-person experience that Make Way for Books gives to families. To do this, they tried to digitally insert into the app all of the elements that make the programming so impactful. The program’s “specialty” is creating original educational content and activities to accompany the books they recommend.
The app gives families access to books in two ways: Read Now titles, which are readily available to read in the app, and Recommended titles. There is even a “Nearby” tab in the app that provides users with the information to the nearest library with access to the books that Make Way for Books recommends. They currently have 30 Read Now titles available and close to 300 Recommended titles with new Read Now and Recommended titles added monthly.
The app also seeks to give parents access to tips, activities, and resources to make reading with their child an enjoyable, exciting, and educational experience.
Everyday moments are learning moments. Use the activities in the app to turn daily routines into learning experiences that allow you to build your child’s brain”
– The Make Way for Books app
Most of the Read Now books, as well as many Recommended books are available in both English and Spanish. The app tailors books to the home language of the readers in the community.
They also provide a wide range of other languages in their in-person programs. “Sharing books with your children in your home language is so important,” said Melinda, on having books available in multiple languages. Fernando added, “We tell parents that they should read to their children in the language they say ‘I love you.’”
One of the goals of the app is to not just create interactivity between the app and users, but also between the users themselves. The scene that Fernando and his team envisioned when creating this latest version of the app was that of a child on their parents lap, reading the book together.
Make Way for Books believes that parents are the best story tellers, so they prompt parents to talk to their children during story time about what they and their child think will happen next in the book. After finishing the book and putting away their phones, Make Way for Books wants parents to spend quality time with their children doing the activities presented in the app. The books on the app are separated by ages and the following categories:
Imagination & Discovery
Friends, Family, Community
ABC’s, Writing, and Art
Music & Sounds
Science & Math
Touch & Feel
Out and About
Once you select a book to read, the app will take you to the book’s profile page where you can read the book and review the four other options:
Discuss: Tips on how to expand the experience of reading the book
Do: An activity you can do with your child
Discover: Describes the educational elements of the book
Description: A quick summary of the books plot
Readers can swipe through the books page by page with the text rendered separately underneath the images. There are also in-story prompts to help parents who are reading the book with a child interact, in the form of a little question mark icon at the top left corner of the app.
Once readers finish a book, the app gives words of encouragement, showing just how important building a parent’s confidence is to Make Way for Books.