If you hear the term "March Madness" this month in Mid-Missouri, someone may not necessarily be referring to the college basketball tournament.
Columbia Cares for Kids is launching a "March Reading Madness" throughout the month to help children and parents discover the power and excitement of reading and learning.
United Way of Central Missouri's Early Childhood Advisory Council is encouraging everyone to get involved, including parents, grandparents, schools and childcare providers.
Jefferson City and Columbia elementary school districts will compete to see which district can be the first to read "One Million Minutes in March." Various youth agencies around the city are also participating in the program, offering programs and encouraging children to read 500 minutes throughout the month.
"We're inviting people to come read to children," said Donna Scheidt, executive director of the Jefferson City Day Care Center. "Promoting literacy at an early age develops a lifelong love for reading and learning."
She said local celebrities, such as former Miss Missouri Hope Driskill, Mayor Eric Struemph and Missouri House Rep. Jay Barnes have already committed to coming and reading to the children at the day care.
Scheidt is also asking parents to read a book to their child every evening and when the child comes in to day care the next day, he can write down the book he read.
Rep. Jay Barnes said he thinks reading to your kids is one of the most important things a parent can do.
"My wife and I read at least one, sometimes two, sometimes three, even four books a night to each of our children," Barnes said. "It's a good time for us, and it's a good time for them.
"It encourages lifelong learning, which I think is one of the things kids need to be successful in life."
Any kind of reading counts for the "500 Minute Challenge," whether a child reads a book or someone reads to the child.
Missouri River Regional Library is supporting the program throughout the month, offering suggested reading lists and handing out small prize bags for children who participate.
Eric Lyon, children's programming lead at MRRL, said the story times on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. are great times for young children to be exposed to reading.
Scheidt said it's important for kids, especially preschoolers, to be exposed to reading regularly.
"The minutes aren't quite as important for preschool as is establishing the habit of reading at a young age," she said.
A reading log can be found at marchreadingmadness.com. Children can also track their reading minutes directly on the website and can view the reading totals of the Jefferson City and Columbia elementary schools and districts.