How Rainin's New Education Initiative Pushes for Parent Involvement at Home

Lots of foundations have early literacy grant programs, but few of them actually offer legitimate parenting advice for raising infants and toddlers. The Rainin Foundation recognizes that early literacy is much more than just preschool programs and after school initiatives. Learning to read begins at home, but unfortunately, many parents don’t have the resources they need to be effective teachers. Rainin, which focuses its education program on youngsters in Oakland, is rolling out a new initiative, called Talk Read Sing (Read Kenneth Rainin Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

To learn more about Rainin’s new initiative, I spoke with the foundation’s Director of Education Strategies & Ventures, Susan True. As True said, Rainin is a relatively new foundation, so it's trying out a few new things for the education program. “There’s a lot of great small scale programs that help families read to children more, but it’s hard to bring that to a public health level.”

Talk Read Sing is a 90-day pilot program kicking off in Oakland this summer. The approach is simple and actionable, which is something that really appeals to parents with young children. The initiative aims to turn the world of a child into a learning opportunity by introducing families to prompts that encourage them talk, read and sing to their infants and toddlers every day. “We’ve heard a lot from families that don’t know what to say to their kids to help them learn," Susan explained. "Many parents don’t realize how much their words influence their child's growth.”

These are some of the Susan’s suggestions for parents who want to start incorporating learning opportunities into daily routines. The prompts are meant to be simple, straightforward, thought-provoking, and relevant.

  • In the grocery store, talk to your child about where bananas grow and what other things are yellow.
  • When making dinner, talk about the foods you’re cooking and where they come from.
  • Sing a song to your child when changing his diaper.

Susan has been working with the Bay Area Council on this creative initiative/public awareness campaign, bringing a number of Oakland and regional organizations and businesses into the mix too. “What brings this to life is the creative ads, especially since that’s such a huge part of the expansion program that will potentially reach other parts of the state and country," True said. Goodby Silverstein Partners, the agency famous for the “Got Milk?” campaign, is the brains behind these creative ads, which will soon be plastered all over television, radio, and billboards in Oakland bus shelters.

Considering its Oakland focus on early literacy, this initiative fits nicely into the Rainin Foundation’s overall grantmaking strategy. The foundation is helping fund the campaign in Oakland, in a traditional grantmaking sense. But in a less traditional way, Susan has been helping lead and coordinate the campaign with Bay Area Council. The groups have also secured a partnership with Too Small To Fail, a national early education program that Hillary Clinton is affiliated with.

Rainin’s plan is to learn from this 90-day pilot program in Oakland and then open-source the campaign to other communities in the state and across the country. True says that major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles and San Jose, want to implement the program in their communities, too. And although she hasn’t reached out much on a national scale yet, Tulsa, Oklahoma has expressed interest in using the campaign materials as well. However, Rainin won’t be helping fund campaigns in any other cities, since its focus is set squarely on the kids in Oakland.

True describes this new initiative as Rainin’s “shout from the mountaintops” work, but it is part of a broader foundation program for education. Rainin continues to do intensive work with preschool teachers to make sure that new kindergarteners arrive to class ready to learn.

As far as new grantees go, True keeps an eye out for programs that provide preschool teacher training and get books into the hands of young students. Rainin recently closed its open application period for education grant applications, and she expects the next open period to come around the end of the calendar year. Nonprofits that have ideas about how to integrate literacy into daily life for the birth-to-eight demographic should check out the education program Awards FAQ page and get in touch with the program staff at