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Chris May, Holly Christie, Liz Prather and Alexis Danhoff of United Way announced the launch of Richland County's free Ready4K program Monday.

MANSFIELD -- Families in Richland County can now register for a free resource to help children learn and grow.

The United Way of Richland County is partnering with Ready4K, an evidence-based text messaging program for families with kids ages 0 to 9, to bring the service to area families.

“We wanted to support families to help their children be more successful. And literacy is obviously our main goal,” said Liz Prather, who heads up United Way’s Big Red Bookshelf program. “Parents don't have that much time. We were trying to figure out a way that's going to be easy for families to do this.”

Parents and caregivers can sign up to receive three texts per week with fun facts about child development. These texts also include ideas on how to find teachable moments during ordinary activities like bath time or grocery shopping.

The tips are meant to build on daily routines, rather than add another item on a busy parent’s to-do list. Some activities are as simple as naming items at the grocery store or finding odd and even numbered buildings while walking down the street.

Chris May, Director of the Mansfield Richland County Public Library, said the activities can help parents engage with children and promote a love of reading.

“Having it in bite-sized pieces over the course of the day just makes it less daunting,” May said. “For most parents, tackling things like this can become a little bit overwhelming, so having those smaller pieces really helps that along.”

The library will be helping families enroll in Ready4K during its Summer Reading Program events.

Mansfield City Schools partnered with United Way by signing up all incoming preschool students last month.

“Families are very busy. This is a way to reach our families in a way to support them so that their students will be successful,” said Holly Christie, director of student support programs.

Ready4K curriculum was developed by educational researchers. The program began during the 2013-2014 school year as a way to promote literacy within the San Francisco Unified School District. Since then, it has been proven to increase family engagement and boost children’s literacy by 2 to 3 months over the course of a school year.

The resource is available for free in Richland County through United Way and an Equity Grant of $2,995 from Ready4K. The grant will cover the first 500 people to register. United Way is currently raising additional funds to provide the service free to Richland County this and next year.

To sign up for Ready4K, text RICHLAND to 70138. Subscribers will be asked how old their child or children are in order to tailor content specifically for their age group. Texts are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Arabic.

United Way also provides new and gently used books for children ages 0 to third grade through its Big Red Bookshelf program. The program has distributed more than 30,000 books since its founding in February 2013

Big Red Bookshelves are located throughout Richland County at the locations listed below. Books are donated by churches, businesses, community members, civic organizations and schools.

  • Bellville Neighborhood Outreach Center (BNOC)

  • Lucas Community Center

  • Mansfield/Ontario/Richland County Health Dept. – WIC Office

  • Mansfield YMCA – Fran’s Daycare

  • Oak Wood Crossing Greenwich

  • Richland County Children Services

  • Richland County Child Support

  • Richland County Job and Family Services

  • Shelby Rotary

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie.ellington@richlandsource.com