Black Hills Reads' resources aid kids' learning, literacy

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Kayla Klein BH Reads
As parents, teachers, preschools and child care centers navigate another school year impacted by COVID-19, resources from Black Hills Reads could ease the back-to-school transition and give tips on early learning skills, whether kids are at school or home.

Black Hills Reads is a United Way initiative that supports early learning efforts in the region. Black Hills Reads director Kayla Klein said much of Black Hills Reads’ mission is advocacy and providing grants for early learning work — efforts that got a recent boost from a $450,000 donation from the Vucurevich Foundation.

Black Hills Reads’ website,, offers a variety of resources and ideas parents and teachers can use to build literacy skills. Introducing books into children’s lives as early as infancy can contribute to good reading skills and kindergarten readiness.

“(Kindergarten readiness) is a consistent issue throughout the state due to the extreme lack of focus on early learning and school readiness in our state,” Klein said. “We’re trying to help connect the dots. School readiness has always been an issue (in South Dakota). It’s worse and amplified this year because of COVID-19”

Now, at the beginning of a new school year, is an especially important time for parents to develop a relationship with their child’s school staff. Social and emotional support are vital for helping kids make a smooth transition to starting school or going back to school, Klein said. That relationship may also help parents feel more comfortable talking to teachers, whether parents have questions about helping their child adapt to a new school year or whether they want ideas for supporting their child’s reading skills at home.

For more help and ideas, parents, teachers and childcare providers can subscribe to Weekly Early Learner Digest for ideas to keep kids engaged in reading and early learning. Go to

“We send out a weekly newsletter (Weekly Early Learner Digest) that has a breakdown of resources by age, based on the season and holidays. They’re early learning activities parents can do at home or educators can do in the classroom or early learning environment. They’re all based on early learning guidelines,” Klein said.

Klein said Black Hills Reads also points families to the South Dakota Statewide Family Engagement Center for more ideas for reading and early learning. The SDSFEC website has a tab called Families, and a section called School 101. There, at, parents will find an array of kindergarten readiness resources

In South Dakota, where 54% of third-graders are not reading proficient, developing consistent reading habits is vital throughout a child’s school years.

“One of the things I recommend most is let your kid choose the book. Having an enthusiastic reader will inspire participating (in reading). Don’t be afraid to let your kid read the book several times,” Klein said.

Take children to your local library or bookstore and let them look at books that are different from what they have at home, she said. Create a reading routine — such as at bedtime or during breakfast — and make reading a fun adventure.

If parents are struggling to find time to read with their children, Klein suggested finding digital assistance or services such as Rapid City Public Library’s Dial-A-Story line (605-574-7477).

“Because of COVID-19, there’s so many good digital options. Lots of people are reading books online. If you have your smartphone, google someone reading a book or check out library apps,” Klein said.

Black Hills Reads’ community programs and events also encourage kids’ reading skills, starting in infancy. Baby’s First Book Bag is geared for infants through 3-year-olds and is a huge school readiness component, Klein said.

“We work with home-visiting programs to help parents build a home library for their kids. We give them not only reasons why it’s important to read to their baby and why it’s so vital to their development, we give them three books and give them developmental guideline pieces to help parents identify if their child potentially has a learning delay,” she said.

In conjunction with the South Dakota Humanities Council, Black Hills Reads helps support the Young Readers One Book program, getting books to third graders and helping kids connect with the author. That program will be upcoming this fall, Klein said.

One of the biggest events Black Hills Reads promotes is Race to Read, which runs from January to March 2, Read Across America Day. The overall goal is to encourage children to read as many books as possible.

Black Hills Reads also commits about $150,000 of its funding to pay for children to participate in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Parents can sign up their child for the Imagination Library program free of charge. Children will then receive a book every month until they are they’re 5. Klein said about 6,000 children, mostly from the Rapid City area, participate in Imagination Library. Black Hills Reads has resource guides on its website to go with the Imagination Library program.

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