Early Childhood Literacy & Nutrition in Guatemala

by The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation, Inc.
Reading Pleasure with Children
Reading Pleasure with Children

Riecken Community Libraries are proving that libraries are essential for a democratic society. The libraries are institutions where citizens are encouraged to make informed decisions and achieve their full potential. They deliver knowledge, promote critical thinking and stimulate self-education and lifelong learning. In poor communities, libraries also fulfill the role of providing a sustainable framework, with the library’s operations run by volunteers in the community. Through community leadership, important principles of development and self-government are formed.

Riecken Community Libraries distinguish themselves from similar development initiatives by the deep roots it plants in the communities where the libraries operate. Our libraries are vibrant centers supported by innovative programming, especially for children and youth. At the heart of this innovation are our librarians.

Riecken Libraries have talented librarians offering dynamic programming to engage young children, teens and adults. And you may see a common theme coming up in our newsletters – our libraries are not just about books and access to technology. They serve as community centers, a meeting ground for exciting programming, community leaders, families and more.

The community libraries also focus on the promotion of health through early childhood reading and nutrition education. This program involves pregnant women, parents and their children under six years old. In a fun and entertaining way, reading skills are combined with lessons on nutrition, such as cooking with fruits and vegetables, nutrition in general, and how to talk about nutrition with their young children.

Our library services are available to anyone who needs them. The community libraries promote a culture of transparency based on the transmission of values and strengthening of organizational skills. Youth also benefit from the libraries by gaining citizenship and leadership skills through local volunteerism.

Building Identity with Children
Building Identity with Children


Readers Families in Community Library "Windows ope
Readers Families in Community Library "Windows ope

According to the First Steps blog1, from Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents (father and mother) read aloud to their children from birth.  According to this blog, “reading fairytales not only helps children to improve their vocabulary, but to recognize figures through the illustrations, to develop their comprehension skills, and to stimulate their interest in stories books.  All this will affect their future lives, improving their analytical skills and theirs school performance”.

However, the educational and cultural reality of Latin America is characterized by a large number of people who declare that they cannot read or write; the most affected are in the northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras). Through various educational programs, Honduras and Guatemala have seen their illiteracy rates drop, but there are still many challenges to overcome. Riecken’s programs have been successfully addressing these challenges by involving civil society in the school and cultural education process, and promoting the spirit of discovery thought the joy of reading.

The Individuals, who possess the spirit of discovery, have the ability to try new things, start new projects and participate in the social life of their communities. Through reading, people can find solutions to problems and answers to their questions. Reading also encourages new ideas and creativity.  Therefore,  reading leads to discovery and the discovery leads to the prosperity.  The reading program of Riecken Community libraries creates and strengthens the habit and joy of reading in the rural communities where the libraries exist.  This program is designed to promote reading in children and adults by making reading fun and accessible. Librarians, volunteers, and parents are trained on how to read aloud and story time techniques. This training and the practice of reading aloud helps children develop a positive relationship with reading from an early age.  For teenagers and adults, Book Clubs have been formed to promote reading as a social activity and a source of enjoyment and camaraderie.

Riecken’s libraries are also seen as “Bebetecas” (Libraries for babies)

The Riecken Foundation believes that reading to children from an early age (0-5 years), stimulates the mind, develops language, and builds a base to ensure the success of reading in the future. The parents are childrens’ first teachers; so they need to be provided with tools and activities they can do with their families to promote reading at an early age and develop a reading habit that will continue throughout life.  Riecken’s programs are aimed develop language skills, vocabulary, pre-reading, as well as creating positive experiences with books. Parents also learn techniques and that they practice with their children.  Essentially, the community libraries promote six pre-reading skills that mother, father and baby can develop from birth:

  • Motivation to Books: sparking the interest in children to enjoy books, with the purpose of promoting an approach to them.
  • Vocabulary: in the first week of life, the baby can vocalize at the same time that mother does.
  • Becoming familiar with the writing: engage the children with reading, use exercises that show drawings, shapes, people, and animals, not only with figures but with written words.
  • Knowledge of sounds: help children acquire the ability to hear and play with sounds.
  • Narrative skills: librarians can relate stories and tales to children and help develop the skills in reading readiness.
  • Letter knowledge: the children begin to learn their first letters.

The Riecken Community Libraries successfully promote literacy and the reading and writing practices in rural communities. It is the ideal complement to the effort made by the formal education sector.  This integrated approach helps promote the practices of reading and writing in the life of the community. Building a literate ambience is an essential step before creating literate people. It’s also a way to help address the lack of reading skills and the environments that don’t promote literacy, which can sometimes be found in formal school settings. 2

[1] http://blogs.iadb.org/desarrollo-infantil/2014/09/05/alfabetizacion/

 [2] Openjuru, George. Adult literacy and its link to development In: DVV Internationalhttp://www.iiz-dvv.de/index.php?article_id=336&clang=3 (consultation: September 9, 2014)

New reader at the Riecken Community Library
New reader at the Riecken Community Library
The librarian training is essential to promote pro
The librarian training is essential to promote pro


A work session of childhood development reading
A work session of childhood development reading

Although and early childhood development reading program began in the libraries in 2007, in 2013 a child nutrition component was launched and offered as a preschool educational option to parents. The program was piloted in 15 community libraries:

Guatemala (Xolsacmaljá, Cabricán, Huitán, San Juan Chamelco, and La Libertad), and in Honduras (San Lucas, San Luis, El Porvenir, San Jerónimo, Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Copán Ruinas, Dulce Nombre, El Níspero, San Juan Planes, and Yorito).

This early childhood development program that links reading and nutrition is enabling communities to ward off health problems and malnutrition, strengthen the mother-child emotional bond, and guide, train and educate parents or children´s caretakers to ensure children's continuous and ongoing development.

Early childhood development leads to school succes
Early childhood development leads to school succes

Recently we had the benefit of a graduate student from the United States evaluating our existing early childhood development and nutrition program as part of her Master's thesis.  Not only did she participate in sessions she also interviewed many of the mothers privately.  The feedback was very positive.  The only complaint was that sessions were not more frequent.  In a perfect world we would, of course, like to offer such sessions on a daily basis.

All of the mothers reported positive changes in their children:  they talked more, they asked more questions, interacted more with other children, showed interest in books and visiting the library.  In addition, the mothers expressed their gratitude for the nutritional information and indicated that they were seeing that their children received adequate protein and vegetables.  

My wish for all of our donors is that you could see the gratitude in the eyes of the mothers of these children.  Many are not literate themselves and, like mothers everywhere, hope for more for their children.  With your ongoing support we can continue to give these mothers hope that their children will succeed as students by getting them started as soon as possible.  Gracias y saludos. 


Early childhood training for librarians.
Early childhood training for librarians.

Very recently, under the very able leadership of our early dhildhood development expert, Alba Estrada, from Quiche, El Quiche, Guatemala conducted training sessions for our librarians in both Guatemala and Honduras.  The program is being expanded to five communities in Guatemala and ten in Honduras and, with your ongling support, we hope to expand the program to all 65 libraries.  There is no question that pre-literacy activities are crucial to later educational success and there is no question that the nutritional information that is disseminated to the familes is crucial in countries with very high rates of malnutrition.  When asked to report of their experiences after a number of years of attending our first pilot program in Quiche most of the mothers mention first the change in their children after they learned about the need for a varied diet including protein and vegetables. 

Young children should be lively and engaged in all the activities of an early childhood development program rather than listless and inattentive.  With your help we will be able to expand this program throughout the network of 65 communities that we currently serve.  Thank you again for your ongoing support. 

Activites of early childhood development
Activites of early childhood development
Alba showing how to introduce numbers/letters
Alba showing how to introduce numbers/letters

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Organization Information

The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation, Inc.

Location: Princeton, NJ - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.riecken.org
Project Leader:
William Cartwright
Miami Springs, Florida United States

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