Giving kids bikes might not seem like the most intuitive way to get them to pick up a book. But for Rollins Place Elementary in Louisiana, bicycles have become an essential part of their school’s literacy programming. Rollins Place worked with Beanstack and local community partners to create an ambitious reading challenge for their first and second-grade students—and it has transformed the way their kids think about reading. In this blog, we’ll share the story of the Bikes for Books challenge, and how it has helped Rollins Place build a culture of reading.
It didn’t take much convincing for Kristy Gilpin, librarian at Rollins Place, to give reading challenges a try. “Honestly, I saw other librarians doing them on social media, and it just looked fun,” she said.
Gilpin decided to test the waters by hosting short, seasonal reading challenges—and students loved them. Bolstered by those successes, Rollins Place dove into their first month-long reading challenge in January 2019. Gilpin started by challenging students to read 20 Caldecott award-winning books in January. As soon as the challenge began, both the Rollins Place Elementary library and the local library saw an influx of families asking to check out award-winning books.
“We ended up with over 200 students participating,” says Gilpin. “That’s when we realized we were onto something!”
After Rollins Place’s success with the Caldecott reading challenge, three local partners—Ozark Insurance Agency, The Red Door Group, and Cypress Title—reached out because they wanted to help support student readers.
“The first year that we ran the challenge, we had several meetings with all involved parties and brainstormed challenge ideas,” says Gilpin . Ultimately, Gilpin and the partners decided on a year-long reading challenge, which students would complete by reading 4,500 minutes over the course of the school year. That equates to about 30 minutes per day—just a bit more than the school’s recommended 20 minutes. And best yet? Every child who completes the challenge receives a bike, paid for by the partners, for their hard work.
When Rollins Place first announced the Books for Bikes challenge, students and teachers alike were thrilled. “We keep a bicycle at school throughout the year to remind kids about the challenge,” says Gilpin . “Our staff members have fun riding the bike down the hall, ringing the little bell on the handle, and reminding our students about the reading challenge.” As more and more students got involved, it soon became clear that the Books for Bikes challenge would be instrumental in helping Rollins Place build a culture of reading.
Gilpin admits that at first, she was worried about incentivizing students with prizes. “I struggle with the idea of providing incentives for reading, as I usually have the mentality that reading itself is the prize,” says Gilpin .
But for Gilpin , the proof that the challenge was building a culture of reading was right in her own home. “My daughter is a reluctant reader,” she said. “Despite having a mother who’s a librarian, reading is hard for her and not her go-to activity.” Gilpin ’s daughter was in second grade when Gilpin started the Books for Bikes program. “A brand-new bike was the incentive that she needed to read and log her minutes every single day,” Gilpin said. “She is so proud of the bike that she earned. She even stole my ‘Reading is Fun’ flag and cruised the neighborhood with it on her handlebars.”
As the Books for Bikes challenge gained traction, though, it rapidly became clear that Gilpin needed a more efficient system for tracking than a paper reading log. “The first year that we did the challenge, we required students to turn in paper reading logs. This was a nightmare on my side!” said Gilpin .
Rollins Place decided to switch to Beanstack because it allowed them to move their existing challenge online so that students could track their reading via a mobile app. “Beanstack has made organizing the challenge and record keeping so much easier,” Gilpin said. Beanstack also provides templates for popular challenge themes like Caldecott award, Bluebonnet winners, and more, so the initial task of creating a challenge takes a fraction of the time compared to other platforms.
And easing the burden has been critical for Rollins Place, because the Books for Bikes challenge just keeps growing. This year, Rollins Place and their community partners rewarded 80 students with brand-new bicycles for their commitment to reading.
Since its founding, the Books for Bikes challenge has helped Gilpin share a love of reading with more students. At its heart, Books for Bikes isn’t about getting a prize. It’s about motivating even the most reluctant readers to discover the joy of reading for themselves.
When asked for her advice on how other schools can motivate their students to read, Gilpin ’s answer was simple. “Start small,” she said. “Even short, monthly challenges can hype up your students. Reading challenges are infectious. Once kids see their peers participating, they’ll want to participate, too.”
To learn more about how your school can use Beanstack to build a culture of reading, go to beanstack.com/schools.