SYCAMORE – As a reward for reading more than 4,000 books in the past two months, kids at the Land of Learning Child Care Center in Sycamore spent Monday morning listening to two former Northern Illinois University football players read stories.
Former quarterback Chandler Harnish and former tight end Adam Kiel read to children who are not in kindergarten yet, many of whom wore NIU jerseys and T-shirts.
Chelon Benson, one of the center’s directors, said the goal was to read 3,000 books during March and April for the Land of Learning Bookworms program.
The two-month push culminates this week, which is Week of the Young Child – an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Benson said about 90 families participated in the spring reading challenge.
The center serves children from 6 weeks old to 12 years old.
Other than a visit from NIU football players, the center will celebrate the week by hosting NIU physical education students, having an art show, and throwing a pizza party.
“It’s very exciting for the kids,” said Jami Nguyen, director of the center. “We wanted to make it special for them.”
When Kiel and Harnish finished reading Monday, children asked questions such as, “Can I play football with you?” and “Are you going to be on TV?”
Some kids took photos with the players while others asked them to sign books or jerseys.
They also got a glimpse of the players’ Mid-American Conference championship rings.
Kiel said he serves as the community liaison for student athletes at NIU, which is how he connected with the Land of Learning Child Care Center.
“[NIU Athletic Director] Jeff Compher puts a lot of emphasis on life skills. We push community service quite a bit,” he said. “The student athletes really enjoy it, too. We get such great support from the community, and we like to give back.”
Kiel said athletes often play bingo at nursing homes, attend fun fairs and read to children.
They have logged more than 2,000 hours of community service since fall.
Harnish said it’s especially important for young children to see student athletes supporting the community.
“... At the end of the day, education is very important,” Harnish said. “It’s good for the community to see that.”