What is Tandem's mission?

Tandem™ partners with families, educators, and communities to surround young children with interactive learning experiences that spark joy and close the opportunity gap.

How does Tandem achieve its mission?


Tandem’s programming is rooted in the belief that high-quality early learning and strong family bonds can break the cycle of poverty and build brighter futures for children. Both strategies are effective on their own, but when approached together and with strong partnerships in the community, the results can be greater and more lasting.  To that end, Tandem works in three program areas: Community Capacity Building, Family Engagement, and StoryCycles – our new school-to-home book-sharing program.

Tandem additionally offers a fee for service model where we provide trainings and technical assistance to service organizations, non-profits, and school districts that are interested in implementing and promoting early learning interventions.

To read more about our program offerings, please refer to our programs page.


Who does Tandem serve?

Tandem has served 90,000 children ages 0-6 and their families in three Bay Area counties (San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa) since 2003. Tandem’s programs focus on serving families whose children at greatest risk of falling behind: children living in poverty, English language learners, children of color, and children not enrolled in formal care settings or preschool.

What is early learning and why is it important?

Tandem defines early learning as the most important skills and knowledge a child needs to have before he or she enters kindergarten. Studies have shown that the human brain is most receptive to learning between birth and three years of age, and that children who have access to rich early learning experiences are more likely to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. However, children from poor families enter kindergarten 12-14 months behind – a gap that, without intervention, continues to widen as the child moves through school. Furthermore, by age 3, children in low-income households have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers. Simply put, by investing in early learning, we can have a significant impact on closing the school-readiness gap that exists for low-income children living in our communities.  At Tandem, we focus on developing children’s early-learning competencies in: early language and literacy, critical thinking, self- regulation, listening and understanding, and social and emotional understanding.

To read more about the importance of early learning, please refer to our Evidence-Based Approach page.

What is early literacy and why is it important?

Tandem defines early literacy as everything a child knows about reading and writing before he or she can read or write.  By age 3, children in low-income households have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers.  This word gap has a profound effect on school readiness.  Children from poor families enter kindergarten 12-14 months behind – a gap that, without intervention, continues to widen as the child moves through school.  Children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are 4 times more likely to leave school without a diploma than children who are reading at grade level, and people who fail to complete high school by age 20 are 50% more likely to have sporadic employment and 7 times more likely to be persistently poor as adults.  Even if there are books in these homes (and 61% of low income households lack books entirely), low literacy levels and home language limitations among adults are a powerful barrier to regular book sharing.  Tandem works with children and the adults who care for them to build early literacy skills before they fall behind.

To read more about the importance of early literacy, please refer to our Evidence-Based Approach page.

By “adults who care for them,” do you mean a child’s parents?

Yes – but not just their parents!  Tandem wants every adult who has regular and meaningful interaction with a child to have the same tools as a well-trained educator. We provide ongoing support and training to parents/caregivers, childcare providers (including those who operate small daycares in their home), and teachers.  We refer to teachers and childcare providers as educators to acknowledge the critical role they play in shaping a child’s future.

What type of support does Tandem offer parents and educators?

Tandem provides interactive book-sharing demonstrations and workshops for parents, caregivers, and educators to encourage regular book sharing and give them the tools to target specific areas of growth and development with their children. Tandem also provides materials, including online resources and mobile text messaging, for reinforcing important school-readiness skills such as vocabulary, phonological awareness, self-regulation, critical thinking, social-emotional development, and print awareness.

Additionally, through our Literacy Champions intervention, Tandem equips parent leaders with information and skills in early literacy and learning, and children’s books. These parent leaders then tap into their own personal networks to share these resources through events and trainings with local families in their neighborhoods.

To read more about our work with parents and educators, please refer to our Programs pages.

Why do you call it book-sharing instead of reading?

If families have books in the home, adults can be reluctant to share books with their children because of their own low literacy levels or lack of comfort with a foreign language.  Tandem’s emphasis on book-sharing expands the definition of reading beyond actual words on a page to include pictures and outside objects/experiences, inviting parents to use books as an opportunity to enjoy precious moments of joy and closeness with their child. Parents are encouraged to use the books as a tool to explore stories, words, and the world around them – and most of all, to have fun – regardless of their own comfort with reading in general or any one language in particular. Parents are also encouraged to give children the space to lead in the process of book sharing and exploring a story, even before they are able to read the words on the page.

What happens when children, parents, and educators move on from Tandem programming?

In the case of our community capacity-building work, Tandem provides a host of online resources for reinforcing early learning and literacy skills in the classroom and at home. These resources are meant to complement the trainings that parents and educators receive from Tandem, and are available to parents and educators during their enrollment in a program or after.

Our Literacy Champions program is intended to support the ongoing existence and growth of parent engagement activities in early learning, both as a part of and also independent of funded initiatives. By using a training-the-trainer approach, Literacy Champions or parent leaders are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to assist parents in their own neighborhoods to develop children’s early learning skills.

Does Tandem donate books?

Tandem donates leave-behind books to school sites for classroom use. These leave-behind books allow educators to practice interactive book-sharing techniques modeled during Tandem book-sharing demonstrations.

Tandem distributes 3,000+ books to families through book drives, family workshops, and community events to build their home libraries.

What types of books does Tandem provide?

Tandem books are high quality, age-appropriate, culturally diverse, and available in multiple languages. In addition, books in the Tandem collection reinforce critical early literacy skills. Some favorites from the collection include: Llama Llama Red Pajama, The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are, 1-2-3 to the Zoo, and Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed.

How many languages are represented in the books provided by Tandem?

Tandem’s goal is to meet the needs of the communities we serve.  Each year, we distribute books in 10 different languages to support families to share books with their children in their home languages.  English, Spanish, and Chinese are the languages with the greatest demand. We work closely with educators, community partners, and our parent leaders to determine the books and materials we provide are the best match for the families and children we serve.

Who are Tandem’s program partners?

Tandem works in partnership with early childhood organizations, such as Head Start and First 5 family resource centers, service organizations, public libraries, school districts, and a host of nonprofit organizations. In fact, Tandem works with a total of 125 nonprofit partners to implement its programs and is currently recognized as the premier early literacy partner for both San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts.

To learn more about how we work within our communities, read our partner stories.

What can I do to help?

The best way to make a difference in the lives of the children and families Tandem serves is to make a financial gift in an amount that is meaningful to you. Tandem will put your gift to immediate use, putting books in children’s homes and giving the adults in their lives the tools to encourage and increase their child’s engagement in learning. The second best thing you can do is to tell a friend about our work – or better yet – bring them along to a volunteer or other Tandem event so they can get to know us.

Speaking of volunteering, can I volunteer with Tandem?

Absolutely!  Our volunteers contribute to Tandem’s success by hosting book drives, handling administrative tasks, and spreading the word about the work that we do in Bay Area communities. We offer a variety of activities for families, groups, and individuals.

Contact Julie Barton to explore these and other ways to get involved. Some of our best volunteer opportunities have come from potential volunteers, so we welcome your ideas for other ways to engage!

Who are the people that work at Tandem?

Tandem accomplishes all of the above with small staff working in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties. We have staff members who work on general operations, communications, fundraising, research and evaluation, and programs. The majority of our staff focuses on program design and implementation, and they are primarily based in schools, service organizations, and other community-based locations where we deliver our programs. Meet them all here.

Let's do this together.

Find free tools, resources, and opportunities. Donations and volunteers are always welcome. Together, we can make a difference.