Meet our 2024 Library Foundation Award honorees.

PNC Bank: Building Vocabulary with Young Learners at Chicago Public Library

The following is written by Elizabeth McChesney, Director of Children’s Services, Chicago Public Library.

At Chicago Public Library, we know that reading is critical to life success and that young children need daily opportunities to build the skills that lead to reading and lifelong learning.

That is why we are deeply committed to creating opportunities for young children to be exposed to heavy doses of language and to develop their own rich vocabulary. Having a rich vocabulary is essential in a fast-changing environment heavily textured with language.
Through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, PNC Bank has generously invested $634,000 to support vital work in six Chicago Public Library Branches and their surrounding communities to help build children’s vocabulary through language and active learning experiences. The Words to Grow On, Chicago program links Chicago Public Library with El Valor in the greater Pilsen/Little Village community and with Metropolitan Family Services in the Englewood community.  
Families are welcomed and encouraged to take part in special, language-rich story hours that accelerate word acquisition and build vocabulary. Library teams facilitate play that encourages parent-child interaction and fosters word and language acquisition. Additionally, the Words to Grow On, Chicago team delivers pop-up story times complete with nursery rhymes, songs, and poetry in collaboration with community champions throughout these communities, including barbershops in Englewood and markets in Little Village. Community champions embrace the storytellers to show that they, too, love stories, language and play.  

The six Words to Grow On, Chicago branches of the Chicago Public Library—Lozano, Little Village, Toman, West Englewood, Kelly and Sherman Park—are home to active learning and play centers that promote creativity, play and self-expression in the library. This evidence-based approach fosters child / caregiver to interaction in the space. The flexible and open-ended play experiences encouraged by these spaces deepen language skills, foster creativity and support family bonds. In essence, they nurture learning.  
Each library hosts PNC-sponsored quarterly storytelling events and family programming to celebrate parents and kids. During our 2016 Rahm’s Reader’s Summer Learning Challenge, participating families took part in more than 100 programs across these six branches. Throughout the summer, they made family books, learned funny songs, and heard breathtaking stories together. Strengthening family connections through talking, singing, reading and collaborating is at the heart of this work. And the outcomes are clear: kids who engage with language and active learning experiences in these ways do better in school, and are more able to communicate, read and succeed.  
Read more about PNC’s Words to Grow On, Chicago program at You can also learn more about the Library’s exciting plans for 15 new children’s spaces at, a project supported by Exelon. Thank you to these partners for bringing exceptional learning experiences to children throughout Chicago!