Not long ago, everyone said "Lao people don't read."
We publish high-quality books that people are eager to read, and we get those books to readers who typically never had books before.
Higher education for young adults
Our learning center, Big Sister Mouse, has young adult students as well as children. The young adults learn many of the skills they didn't get in high school, ranging from academic skills (writing, English, math, computers) to broader problem-solving skills.
We use many interactive, hands-on techniques. Here, one student is learning Scratch, which teaches how to write computer programs by moving blocks which contain commands, rather than typing them out. (That's hard enough for native English speakers to do without making a typo, and much harder for Lao students.) English, when they can practice one-on-one conversation with visitors, is the favorite for nearly everyone. More about Big Sister Mouse.
Higher education for young adults
For primary school children, we offer classes with the standard Lao curriculum but, as with young adults, we focus on interactive approaches. When visitors volunteer for a day or a week, children get to learn English -- and they learn fast. Often we combine several activities. In the Happy Snake game, everybody gets three cards. If they can combine those numbers, using standard math symbols, to make the number the dealer called, they advance one square toward the snake's head. "It was the best day of my whole vacation," said one visitor (actually, many have made similar comments.) More about volunteering and Big Sister Mouse.
Since 2006 we've published more than 370 books. Our first books were for young children, just learning to read. Now we've published on a wide variety of subjects, from women's health to the countries of ASEAN, from traditional fairy tales to the diary of Anne Frank.
Traditional Lao fairy tales are the most popular books, with all ages. These stories help new readers develop their reading skills. Then they get enthusiastic about other books too, because a top priority for us is to publish books that people are eager to read. Children have enjoyed our nature series, with books about life in the sea, insects, and (of course) dinosaurs. Older readers eagerly share a Lao cookbook, the first they've ever seen. More about Books we've published.
Silent reading program
Reading is fun. It improves general communication skills, as well as reading skills. Books can help us improve our health, get better jobs, and see how other countries have solved the challenges that we face - or what happened if they didn't.
As we travel to schools in Laos, we start a program of daily reading. We leave enough books in each classroom for them to read every day. Most of these schools had no books at all that children could read for enjoyment, until Big Brother Mouse came. More about Silent reading.
After we published our first books, the next question was: How do we get them to children? Book parties evolved as the answer. At book parties we read aloud, play games, sing songs about books, and give every child a book of their own, usually the first one they ever owned.
Sonesoulilat was just 16 when he organized our first book party. In this photo, he tells an audience-participation story. Now he organizes more than one hundred book parties in a busy month. You can see many more in our Photo Album. More about School book parties.
Does it all actually make any difference?
During our first years, we concentrated on making more books that children were eager to read, and getting them into schools and villages. Then we set up daily reading programs in schools, and now we're measuring their impact.
In September and early October 2014 we measured reading skills in all 5 grades of 45 primary schools. Some got the reading program; some did not. Seven months later we went back and tested again. In schools that had the daily reading, students' reading skills improved 39% more than at those that did not. Details of this study are available as a PDF, please click for Evaluation Report: Sustained Silent Reading in Laos.