Off the Shelf: Programs Promote School Readiness

A whole new crop of little ones started their formal education journey in recent weeks when they took that exciting step of becoming a kindergartner. Each child came to their new classroom with a different background of experiences and opportunities. Some attended preschool or a daycare program with strong educational components. Some participated in enrichment activities or early literacy classes, such as library story times or nature camps. Their various opportunities before entering school make a difference in their transition into kindergarten, their readiness to learn, and their future school success. That is why public libraries invest in multiple school readiness initiatives.


Studies have shown that many children come to kindergarten without the skills necessary for success in lifelong learning. A 2019 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics demonstrated that less than half of children growing up in poverty are ready for kindergarten at 5, while about 75% of moderate to high income children are ready for school. Various factors besides income play a role.


One leading factor, and one where families can have a direct impact on a child’s success in school, is how often books are read to the child starting at birth. The nonprofit group Read Aloud 15 Minutes at shares some of the benefits of reading aloud:

  1. Developing vocabulary

  2. Building literacy skills

  3. Instilling a love of reading

  4. Gaining and sharing knowledge

  5. Enhancing brain development

  6. Strengthening the relationship with the reader


An Ohio State University study illustrated the big difference in vocabulary that comes from regularly reading to a child. A January 2021 Scholastic article on the study reported that, “Based on their calculations, kids who were read to once or twice a week would hear 63,570 words, while children who were read to three to five times a week would hear 169,520 words. Daily reading would result in 296,660 words, and five books a day would result in a whopping 1,483,300 words heard by age 5!”


While five books a day is great, the Read Aloud organization advocates that reading to a child for just 15 minutes a day can make a big difference. By encouraging just 15 minutes of daily practice, this group and others hope to show how manageable this goal can be. They also point to data that shows that only 48% of young children in the United States are read to each day and more than 15% of young children are read to by a family member fewer than three times per week. Building awareness of the impact of early literacy development and creating opportunities for families and children to make reading a habit is important to improve these statistics.


Public libraries support families in developing early literacy skills and school readiness in several ways. One of the most important is insuring access. All families in our community, regardless of income, can register for a library card and choose from thousands of toddler books, picture books, and early readers. The variety in the collection is great for the child and the reader. Different books expose the child to a wider range of language and, at the same time, the adult reading to them is less likely to become bored with the same few books each day. As children grow, it is fun for them to be able to explore and make their own choice at the library. I love seeing kids pick out a stack of books to borrow.


Additionally, public libraries offer fun and engaging story times. These classes give the child a new reading experience and exposure to books. They also can be good examples for parents and caretakers to see ways to read expressively and learn how to ask questions or extend the conversation around the book with the child.


Our library has a Babies Need Books program. Thanks to funding from the Rotary Club and our own Friends of the Library group, we are able to provide the family of each baby born at our hospital with a book and information on the role of early literacy development and reading aloud.


For parents that want to start the reading habit early, we have a stork literacy program, which also provides families with information. The goal is to read 100 books before the baby is born with the incentive of receiving a toy and book. It is a great chance to get to know the library’s collection and the staff that are their to support them and their child. Other benefits include parent-child bonding time and a chance to build the habit before the busyness that ensues when the baby is born.


Several libraries in our area offer the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten incentive program. Once the baby is born, the goal is to read aloud at least a thousand books to them. It sounds like a lot, but just one book a day equals 1,825 books by the time a child is 5. Participants get reading logs to mark off each book and small incentives for each 100 books. The child’s name goes up on the wall where they can watch their marker climb up to the 1000 books goal.


September is Library Card Sign Up Month and a great time to get a library card. Children under 5 get a specially designed card and a book to make part of their home library. This month, we also have a small packet of rewards when children get a new card.


Having a library card and making use of the collection and incentive programs offered at public libraries are all ways that families can prepare children for school success. As a community, we need to raise readers who can become strong employees and strong citizens. Building readers and learners doesn’t start on the first day of school. It takes our community working together to give children the gift of reading and learning. It will make a difference for them today and into the future.


See you at the library!