We Read So Much We Bought a Farm…EIEIO!


And on that farm we had a cow…and a water buffalo…and a pig…and a llama…and some flocks of chicks…and some tree seedlings.

Really! We did! (Well, not the actual farm part…but we did buy the animals and trees!)

During this past school year, my students participated in Heifer International’s Read to Feed program. It’s a reading incentive program in which kids record their independent reading minutes and get pledges for their reading time to raise money for Heifer International, an organization that provides farm animals and supplies to families living in poverty.

Image courtesy of Heifer International.
What Drew Me to Read to Feed

I actually don’t remember exactly how I heard about the program, but after reading up on it, it seemed like a perfect way to get kids reading AND helping people around the world who are in need. I feel like developing an awareness of what’s going on in the world is so important for kids, as is the arriving at the realization that our actions CAN make a difference. I loved the idea that the program would teach the kids that poverty is out there but also EMPOWER them to realize that we can play a part in breaking the cycle of poverty.

Image courtesy of Heifer International.
How We Ran The Program

At our school, we ran our program from the beginning of December through the end of Christmas vacation. I decided to make it completely voluntary – I provided the families with information about Read to Feed and spoke to the kids about the program, but no one was required to participate. I thought December was a perfect time of year in some ways – after all, it was the season of giving, and there plenty of dark evenings to snuggle up with a book – but also probably the busiest time of year for many families, and a time of year where some families have other community service projects lined up. I figured that offering the program for only those who were interested allowed us to give it a try without overburdening families that really could not take this on at the time.

The Read to Feed website provides a whole bunch of fantastic resources that you can use to get the Read to Feed program off the ground. From reading logs to videos to handouts to a webpage for online donations, most of the prep work is done as soon as you visit Heifer’s site.

We let families know about Read to Feed through our parent newsletter and through schoolwide announcements, and I also spoke to my classes about the program. There are actually several picture books out there that explain what Heifer International does, so I selected my fave, Faith the Cow by Susan Bame Hoover, as a read aloud for students in my kindergarten through grade 2 library classes. (A couple of other books for children on the subject are: Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter, Flora and the Runaway Rooster by John Claude Bemis, and Give a Goat by Jan West Schrock.)

Overall, it was very low key in terms of work on my part thanks to all the provided materials, and on our first attempt, we kept things simple and utilized the free stuff available on Heifer International’s site.

How It Went

For those who participated, I think it really was an awesome experience. I remember talking to a parent who said her daughter had really been inspired by this program and actually GOT IT that even as an elementary school student, she actually could help people who didn’t have enough to eat. I feel like if the program did that for one student, it was worth running. Whether a student actually raised $5 or $200 is not as important to me as whether that student developed the idea that we have the ability to bring about positive changes in the world. Right now.

And I think that even the kids who didn’t raise any money or fill out a reading log got something from the program as well, between chatting about it with other kids, listening to my read aloud, and hearing announcements at school. Maybe it wasn’t feasible for them to participate at that time, but I feel like even being exposed to a program like this can plant seeds that might sprout later.

As you read earlier in my little Old McDonald song, my students ended up reading enough minutes to make a nice contribution to Heifer International – enough for all those animals I mentioned. At the end of the program, I sent a little survey out to the kids who participated to see what animals or other available items they would most like to donate to others, and I tallied everything up and expressed their preferences in a letter when we sent the money to Heifer. I like that Heifer explains how much each type of gift costs because it’s really cool for kids to be able to look at our donation in terms of what it could actually buy for someone else. The younger kids don’t really understand how much $500 is, but they do get it when we say that a family that did not have a cow can now have one.

Image courtesy of Heifer International.

I recommend this program, both to encourage reading and to help earn money for those in poverty…and most of all, as a way to inspire and educate your students about the world and our ability to share our blessings with others.

You’ve heard a lot from me today, but I’d love to hear from you! Has your school participated in Read to Feed or another cool service project? How do you motivate your kids to read? Is there another inspiring program out there that I should try next? Do you have an exciting way of empowering your students to change the world? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments!

**Thank you to Heifer International for giving me permission to use the images included in this post.**