Reading books to children at an early age gives them a jump start on learning how to read. Studies indicate it’s positive preparation for school, too.
Children’s author Mem Fox once said, “If every parent and every adult caring for a child read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation.”
With “1,000 Books by Kindergarten,” Elkhart Public Library wants to do exactly that. The early literacy initiative, part of the library’s strategic plan, encourages parents and supports children to start reading as soon as possible.
“It sends a strong message to parents that reading is important and that it can start at any age,” says Allison McLean, who leads Young People’s Services at the downtown library. “Children are never too young to be read to.”
Parents who want to make sure their children are prepared to go to school should prioritize reading aloud.
“Reading together develops vocabulary and comprehension, nurtures a love for reading, and motivates children to want to learn to read,” McLean says. “Reading aloud to children is the best way to prepare them for school and for learning how to read.”
Three-year-old Graham Steffen is in the program, a continuation of what parents Laura and Wes already were committed to doing for their two boys.
“Graham’s always liked reading,” Laura Steffen says, “but just by reading to him, he’s able to retell stories, and he’ll often incorporate the stories into when he’s pretending.”
When she finds him reading on his own, Steffen is amazed to find that what he’s saying is often close to the actual book. Every day, she and her husband read one-on-one with each of the boys.
“Reading is just part of our daily routine,” she adds, “so it’s nice that we just get to spend time with them.”
Graham has about 300 books to go in the program. Laura Steffen already is looking beyond 1,000 books, as her boys take on new opportunities with reading.
“I’m always putting books on hold that I think they’ll enjoy,” she says. “I’m just looking forward to keep on reading together.”
In Elkhart Public Library’s “1,000” program, parents and children get incentives for every 100 books read. At the finish line, children completing the program will receive two books to take home.
“Children need books of their own to have easy access to reading, and we are glad this program is one way to get those into their homes,” McLean says. “We make a big deal of their accomplishments. … I love making reading a fun and positive experience for families.”
Nearly 150 children have started on their 1,000 books, and nearly one-third have completed the first 100. Families can sign up at any of the five Elkhart Public Library locations, and for record keeping, kids color in numbered train cars as they complete each book along the way.
“I hope to see more and more families participate and continue expanding the program,” McLean says, “by taking it to partnering organizations (such as Head Start and Triple-P Parenting) to reach families who might not be coming to the library right now.”