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Read-a-thon events promote literacy and the love of reading besides raising money for schools and keeping educational standards high.

If you like the idea of a fundraiser that only needs a few volunteers, and boosts literacy or other learning while bringing learners together, then you need to consider holding a read-a-thon.

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Why and how to have a read-a-thon?

Like other “-athon” fundraising approaches like jogathons work, schools and teachers raise funds by having students get pledges from neighbors, relatives, family friends and others for participating in certain reading competitions. However, how the reading is tallied should vary. For instance, you may count pages, chapters, or reading periods like sessions, minutes, or hours. One of the most common read-a-thon models is to have learners read as much as possible during the designated time frame.

The same concept applies to other educational fundraisers like spell-a-thons and math-a-thons. Sponsors offer a per-right answer or a flat donation for all these fundraising ideas. Students are typically awarded a grade-level-appropriate list of math facts or words by the teacher, who will evaluate their performance. For example, the Cactus Valley Elementary PTA in Silt, Colorado, starts each school year with a Mathapalooza, during which students solve math problems while earning pledges toward math game prizes.

Read-a-thon organization

Organization, help, making it fun, coordination and outreach are the key factors for a read-a-thons success.

Read-a-thon – with or without help?

One of the first decisions you will need is whether to work with a read-a-thon company to organize the event or do it yourself. Working with a company has benefits, especially if your school is holding this kind of fundraiser for the first time. Typically, read-a-thon fundraising companies offer tools (both electronic and print) for students to reach out to as many potential supporters as possible, provide suggestions and tips to participants, and electronically manage donations.

If you have opted to organize the read-a-thon event yourself, then some of the tasks you will need to perform include preparing classrooms with reading packets for tracking participants’ reading minutes and collecting pledges. Remember that you will most likely increase donations by implementing online payment options, so the readers do not have to collect cash; get parents to provide the payment link to their child’s sponsors.

The other steps, i.e., publicity, timing, working with recruiting volunteers and teachers, and choosing incentives and themes, apply whether you are contracting a company or working on your own.

Some schools opt to incorporate technology themselves. For example, Franklin Elementary in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, has learners use an application to track their reading and books. At the end of each read-a-thon event, learners had tracked well over 44,000 minutes.

Make it fun

Add more fun to the read-a-thon event by tying it to a theme. Pick a theme that has a broad appeal, such as animals and heroes, and get the school librarian to help select books related to the theme for read-a-thon participants to borrow.

You might set up the event as part of a themed family reading night at school. Assign a common area where learners can read together or be read to for a set time frame. It is safe to stick to about an hour and get volunteers to set up beanbags or tables. You may also organize a simple reading-related craft like making bookmarks and providing light snacks to the participants. Some popular themes you might want to consider include Mystery Night, Dr. Seuss, A Winter’s Tale, Treasure Hunt Night, and Under the Stars.

Coordination

Most schools coordinate their read-a-thon fundraisers to overlap with their book swaps or book fairs to get learners motivated about reading and simultaneously raise funds for the school.

Additional factors to consider include whether the other groups are organizing their fundraisers simultaneously as you and when your school is scheduling its testing period. You may not want students to participate in read-a-thons if they are already reading for exams.

Outreach

Like any other educational fundraiser, you must give families adequate time to find sponsors and gather books for the read-a-thon.

As such, a few weeks before the fundraiser, send out flyers, mention them in your newsletter, share them on the school’s social media pages, and provide a few reminders leading up to the actual read-a-thon.

Who helps?

One of the amazing benefits of educational fundraisers is that it requires very limited volunteer effort. Regarding a read-a-thon event, some of the volunteer tasks you may want to consider include promoting the events, reading to children, encouraging progress in readers, organizing and presenting prizes and incentives, and collecting tracking data.

The academic aspect of a read-a-thon makes it necessary to involve readers. First, the read-a-thon mustn’t be planned to coincide with any school testing that requires extra reading. Also, it is important to determine whether teachers want to coordinate the read-a-thon event with books the students are currently studying as part of the curriculum. Some teachers may let the students pick their books for this event. Teachers can also help check reading logs and encourage students to stay on track.

Additional incentives to boost participation and make your school read-a-thon competition more appealing include:

1. Use someone as an incentive

Jump onto the bandwagon of school principals who step out of their comfort zones to help fundraisers raise more money by asking your school administration to participate in a silly stunt at the end of the read-a-thon event.

2. Take photos

Get a crafty parent to design a simple backdrop, create some cute props that match the event’s theme, and get parents to post their children’s photos on the school’s Facebook page.

3. Display a progress report

Remember those old-school thermometer charts? They do a great job as visual incentives to let participants know their reading efforts are stacking up.

4. Offer rewards and awards

Consider buying books to award top readers in each stream and top readers in each grade.

Read-a-thons for fun and literacy

Most schools and parent groups organize read-a-thons as well as other educational events like spell-a-thons with the sole purpose of promoting learning and literacy. Here too, the event mustn’t coincide with the school’s testing period.

Getting children to read for pleasure can become a lifelong habit and help build the learners’ vocabulary and critical thinking.