Promoting Literacy in Unconventional Ways

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Melanie Holtsman
Courtney Holmes gave free haircuts to children in his local community at the annual Back to School Bash under the condition that they would read to him.

Sitting still for even twenty minutes can be quite a challenge for restless, fidgety seven-year-olds as they get their hair cut. Courtney Holmes, a barber from Iowa, gives these kids a meaningful distraction, as he not only cuts their hair, but also takes on illiteracy.

The benefits of reading are well known, however, there has been a sharp decline in reading among children in the last couple of decades. According to a survey conducted by The National Literacy Trust, 40 percent of kids in the United States between the ages of eight and 16 used to read daily in 2005, while only 30 percent did so in 2011. With digital technologies such as the iPad, Play Station, and Wii taking over children’s lives, reading has become a less preferred form of entertainment.

A barber in Dubuque, Iowa tried to combat this problem by doing what he knows best: cutting hair. Courtney Holmes spent the day giving free haircuts to kids in his local community at the annual Back to School Bash under the condition that they would read to him. As a child, Holmes did not have much access to books. Other than the books provided by school, the only thing he read was the Bible. “I was not a kid that got to read at an early age,” he says. Now 45 and a farther of two, he reads to his kids every night before tucking them into bed.

Not all parents place such a great emphasis on reading, as most kids in his community still struggle to read. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes that means that lessons in literacy come from unlikely places. The Spark Family Hair Salon, where Holmes works, aims to carry forward his efforts and make the reading event a monthly endeavor.