In learning to read, practice—just reading—is a powerful contributor to the development of accurate, fluent, high-comprehension reading (Allington, 2001). Yet today, many children struggle to read—or don't read even when they have the skills. At the same time, many parents remain uninvolved in their child's education.

California Reads is a comprehensive, research-based recreational reading program designed to increase reading outside the classroom and help parents promote literacy behaviors at home. The overarching goal of the program is to increase independent reading for students of all achievement levels while improving attitudes toward books and reading.

The program has six aims:

1. to motivate students to read for fun and to fall in love with reading and books,

2. to actively engage parents as partners in their children's education,

3. to offer staff development that helps teachers improve students' reading,

4. to develop community partnerships that support literacy

5. to provide additional opportunities for children to practice their reading skills,

6. to help families learn to moderate their television viewing

The program's design purposefully integrates the cognitive, motivational, and social aspects of reading. The primary component of the California Reads program is a schoolwide Read-a-Thon. The Read-a-Thon bulletin board (with either a California history, California geography, American history, Earthworks, Journey Through Books or It's a Matter of Character theme) is placed prominently in a public area of the school. The bulletin board is a wonderful visual representation of the reading that is going on in the school, and helps to foster the sense of the school being at the center of a community of readers.

The program runs six to eight months and is managed by parents and/or other volunteers. Teachers, administrators, and school staff serve as role models, participating in the read-a-thon along with the students. California Reads can be used in diverse learning settings including regular school-year, year-round, summer school, and before- and after-school programs. It can be run schoolwide, by grade level, or in individual classrooms.