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Editor's note: Before becoming a Community Engagement Coordinator for Heifer, Kim Machnik was a teacher. She had some unique insights into why other teachers might want to consider using Read to Feed® in their classrooms. This is the second post in a series showcasing the program in advance of April, which we've named Read to Feed Month. 

Read to Feed might sound like a nice idea, but in the crazy world of teaching, we often have to make tough decisions. So, let’s be real here—do your students need Read to Feed? If they’re anything like my students were, I’m willing to bet they do. Here’s why:

1.     They turn up their noses at everything foreign.

toad eating a spider
I don’t blame you, kiddo. This guy has terrible taste.

When I first started teaching, I would invite groups of students to join me for lunch, hoping to teach healthy eating habits. Once, I brought tofu and brown rice with vegetables for lunch. I explained what I was eating and described its nutritional value. Toward the end of the meal, one gentleman couldn’t take it anymore. He interrupted a classmate holding forth on the merits of SpongeBob to exclaim, “Ms. Machnik, I just don’t think I really want to eat toad food!” 

When I started building foreign words into my teaching, I came up against a similar challenge. I’m from Massachusetts, land of the wayward 'R’s. When I was tired or frustrated (and as a first-year teacher, that was at least once per hour), I would baffle my Arizonan students with commands to “get off the floah and get yahself in a chaih raeet now.” When I heard that my students were bragging about their teacher who spoke four languages—English, French, Spanish, and Boston—I knew something had to change.

Even though I knew that these were just innocent (and adorable) mistakes, they made me realize that these kids needed exposure to foreign things—foods, cultures,  words, and ideas. I wanted them to learn what they had in common with people from their own city, state, nation, and planet, and where the actual differences were. They needed to hear similarities rather than assuming alienness, and see the space between what was expected and what was as an accessible and exciting opportunity to learn.

2.     They are way too caught up in their stuff.

In an elementary school, from the week before Halloween until winter break, it’s a maelstrom of sugar highs and wish lists. Honestly, I’m all for holiday cheer, but when a child BREAKS DOWN CRYING DURING SOCIAL STUDIES because she’s only allowed to pick one Webkinz animal for Christmas, we may have a problem on our hands. 

I know it sounds trite and obvious, but the fact is that every new generation of children has to be explicitly taught to appreciate their amazing luck for having been born in a time and place where worrying about Webkinz (for those who don’t know what that is…welcome to the club) is even a possibility. We have to work hard to get that message to be heard among the endless TV commercials and snack-machines-as-billboards. Teaching children to care about others has to be a continual, deliberate act in a society full of those whose livelihoods rely on them learning early and well to care about material things.

3.    For some inexplicable reason, reading has become a punishment.

Child reading book
See, she’s imagining up a storm! That, or she’s just relieved to be sitting down. Those boots look heavy.

Remember the feeling of getting completely lost in a story? As a kid, it was like someone wedged a brick in the big steel door to the unknown and you could squeeze through and climb around in there making as much noise as you wanted until your mom called you home for dinner. When I was a teacher, I required 15 minutes of exploring the wonders of the written universe per night. 15 minutes, and I still had students who would try to show me the same reading log every day, as if I would believe that they’d been reading Captain Smelly Gym Socks and the Adventure of Last Night’s Belly Button Lint since August. My heart broke for these kids, who had come to see reading as some kind of ugly school thing instead of an escape, an adventure, or a challenge.

Maybe, for some of those children, lifting other kids out of poverty will be incentive enough for them to take a chance on enjoying the richness of imagination and perspective tucked between the pages of a book. Worth a shot, right?


Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.