CHESTERFIELD, Va. - Red and white fuzzy hats don't normally go with the Army olive drab uniform. On Dr. Seuss's birthday, however, they came together for a great cause. Soldiers of the 80th Training Command volunteered to read and visit with children at Hopkins Elementary School here, in celebration of Dr. Seuss's 113th birthday on March 2, 2017.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He published his first children's book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," under the name of Dr. Seuss in 1937. After this initial hit, he went on to write numerous best sellers, including "The Cat in the Hat," "Horton Hears a Who," and "Green Eggs and Ham."
The National Education Association's Read Across America Day is a nationwide reading celebration that is held every year on Dr. Seuss's birthday. Across the country, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers participate by bringing together kids, teens, and books.
Christy Smith is the reading specialist at Hopkins, where pre-school through fifth grades are taught. She explained that the school has celebrated the famous author's birthday every year since she's been there. The 15-year-veteran says that celebrating Dr. Seuss is a great opportunity to teach children not just how to read, but a love for reading.
She explained that the teachers, staff and students like to celebrate big. This year they decided to dress up as characters from their favorite children's books. Many of them dressed up as characters from Seuss' popular books, such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham." Others dressed up as characters from a variety of children's books, such as Nancy Drew, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, Click Clack Moo the Cow, and the Big Friendly Giant.
Smith said the mission of Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day is to expose every child to good quality literature. She explained that some kids don't have the experience of someone reading to them at home, and their time spent at school can sometimes be the only opportunity to have someone read to them.
"For our second-language learners, their time here in school is often the only time these kids will hear someone reading in English to them," Smith said. Many of the second-language learners at Hopkins speak Swahili, Cambodian, and Spanish as their first language. "This is a great way to encourage them to read," she said. "It also helps them (second-language learners) learn English, which helps them in social settings and relating to others who speak a language different from their primary language."
A large part of their reading success, according to Smith, is because of the support the school receives from the children's families as well as local communities. "We realize that some parents work two jobs, and it's difficult for them to participate in this, and that's okay," said Smith. "We also have parents who are able to get involved, and we appreciate that."
Bellwood Federal Credit Union in North Chesterfield and local churches are some of their biggest supporters. They donate children's books throughout the year, which benefits not only the children but everyone at the school and in the community, Smith explained.
The school welcomes donated books from the public as well. Everyone is invited to visit the orange box outside in front of the school. In the orange box is a wide variety of kids' books where anyone can drop off book donations. Smith calls it a "Give one, take one" recycling type of system. This means the children can choose any books they like from the orange box and take them home for their own personal enjoyment. Once they are finished reading them, they can bring them back, drop them in the box, and take another book home. However, if children want to keep them, that's perfectly fine. "I love it when kids want to keep the books, because, to me, that means you really want it and will enjoy it many times," she said. "We welcome soldiers, as well, to donate children's books."
The take-away from this celebration of reading is that the school children learn to connect with hearing good quality literature and "that we want our kids to see the benefits of being a life-long reader," said Smith. "We love having the soldiers here to show the children great examples of how important it is to being life-long readers."