January 5, 2024

​​​​Nurturing Young Minds to Increase Reading and School Readiness

Several City programs work to promote and improve school readiness and reading proficiency.

Families celebrate graduation

Virginia Beach GrowSmart, operated through the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development, is dedicated to early care and education and leads the local grade-level reading campaign to promote early school success. GrowSmart was recently honored for its 2022-23 work, including the Virginia Beach Talks, Libraries in Laundromats and StoryWalks® initiatives.

Increasing School Readiness at Home and in the Classroom

When the COVID pandemic hit, GrowSmart saw a steep decline in kindergarteners’ fall school readiness from the 2019 school year to the 2020 school year. In response, the Virginia Beach Talks initiative was launched with a focus on strengthening early learning support for families and early educators interacting with young children. The program uses innovative approaches built on brain science, which identifies ages 0 to 5 as a critical stage in brain and language development. The brain science also identifies conversational turns — back and forth interactions between adult caregivers and young children — as the most predictive measure of child success. These conversational turns are linked to strengthening key regions of the brain that are central in language comprehension and reading skills.

In fall 2020, six months into the pandemic-related learning disruptions, 76.5% of Virginia Beach kindergartners met the kindergarten literacy benchmark. By fall 2022 after the expansion of early learning outreach efforts, 84% of kindergartners met the kindergarten literacy benchmark. While much work is needed to ensure fewer children start school behind, these Virginia Beach Talks programs are moving the needle in the right direction.

Support for Families

Free LENA START sessions are available for adult caregivers, including 10 weekly interactive sessions using talk pedometer technology. This strengths-based approach provides families with an overview of child development, simple techniques they can weave into their daily routines and feedback reports of their home language environment. Weekly sessions include engaging parent resources, take-home books, a meal for the family and childcare.

New classes start in February 2024. For more information and class registration, visit www.VBGrowSmart.com/Lena-Start.

Support for Early Childhood Educators

LENA GROW coaching is offered to early childhood professionals who teach young children in childcare settings. GROW is job-embedded professional development and coaching to help educators strengthen the language environment and interactions with children in their classroom. GROW consists of 10 weekly coaching sessions with feedback reports on the classroom language environment and quality learning materials for the classroom.

Early Childcare programs interested in GROW coaching for the winter/spring 2024 can visit www.VBGrowSmart.com/Lena-Grow.

Young child in yellow and white dress with blue graduation cap

Meeting Community Members Where They Are

The Virginia Beach Public Library (VBPL) believes in meeting residents where they are, inside and outside of traditional library spaces. To support this effort, VBPL has introduced several literacy projects in non-traditional spaces throughout the city. Two of these spaces include laundromats and City parks, where parents, caregivers and children are provided quality early literacy resources.

Libraries in Laundromats

VBPL partnered with the Laundry Cares Foundation to expand library and literacy services into the community through the Libraries in Laundromats program. This partnership creates a fun and vibrant reading corner, complete with a bookcase of rotating high-interest books, table and chairs, educational toys and puzzles and early literacy signage, that provides parents and caregivers with fun ways to add early learning activities into their daily routines. The project launched at Soaps N Suds on Holland Road, and VBPL has since expanded beyond laundromats to include an "embedded library" in the Atlantis Apartment Community Center with books for all ages, early learning toys and information on VBPL resources.

VBPL staff member setting up a Libraries in Laundromats station with books and table


StoryWalks encourage reading and movement by sharing a picture book through a series of engaging signs along a path. Each page of the book is printed and laminated on a sign placed in the ground, with movement and early literacy activities incorporated to enhance the story. StoryWalks are displayed at libraries, schools, parks, shopping malls, festivals and community events throughout the city.

VBPL recently partnered with Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation to install a permanent StoryWalk at Williams Farm Park, which currently displays the story "Winter Dance" by Marion Dane Bauer. Stories are rotated quarterly. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 6, "Following Papa's Song" by Gianna Marino will be displayed on the lawn at the Joint-Use Library.

Two youth looking at Story Walk sign in Williams Farm Park

Contact Information

Virginia Beach GrowSmart

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