Guest Columnist

Books at home boost children's literacy

Special covers, featuring the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library logo, were printed on books that are part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Charity Tyler executive director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation shows some books that are part of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program at the foundation’s offices in the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s downtown location in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, March 2, 2018. The program helps children build a love of reading and their personal libraries by mailing one book to their house each month from birth until they turn five years old. Children receive “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” on their fifth birthday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Special covers, featuring the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library logo, were printed on books that are part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Charity Tyler executive director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation shows some books that are part of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program at the foundation’s offices in the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s downtown location in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, March 2, 2018. The program helps children build a love of reading and their personal libraries by mailing one book to their house each month from birth until they turn five years old. Children receive “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” on their fifth birthday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Cedar Rapids Public Library is a passionate advocate for literacy and lifelong learning. We know pre-literacy skills are vital to future success. That is why the Cedar Rapids Public Library uses the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read curriculum, which focuses on five early literacy skills: Read, Sing, Write, Talk, and Play. These five skills are the essential building blocks for literacy and kindergarten readiness.

Great library programs and a wonderful collection of children’s books go a long way toward increased early childhood literacy rates in our community, but it’s not enough. Every child cannot visit the library and the library can’t visit every child and every home. We need additional ways to ensure kids in our community are able to have equal access to books, regardless of barriers. We need the cherry on top of the sundae.

Research shows that literacy rates improve dramatically for children when there are books in the home. You don’t even need to read the books (please do!), they just have to be there and literacy improves. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails one book per month to a registered child from birth to age five. That’s 60 books by the time they enter kindergarten! This in and of itself could be enough to raise reading scores for Cedar Rapids children. But what if having the books in the home can do even more?

Having books in the home increases the chance a child will be read to, and read to regularly. Interaction between parent/caregiver and child makes sure children are hearing speech patterns and developing the neural connections necessary for future literacy. Kids who have these books in the home will know about reading and connecting with others through the written word. Children who interact with print at a young age have better success at knowing letters and understanding that letters are symbols that make sounds. This phonological awareness is a vital pre literacy skill.

The benefits of this program do not stop there. Through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the Cedar Rapids Public Library can work closer with our local schools. Kindergarten teachers will know that each of the children entering their classrooms has these specific, age-appropriate books. Imagine the power of a shared library and a shared experience as each of these children enter our schools. Communities that have utilized Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library over five years or more have seen statistically significant increases in kindergarten readiness scores. And when you’re ready to learn to read, you’ll be ready to read to learn in the future.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library removes barriers to access by getting books straight to the homes of children. The library knows than learning to read is the first step in creating lifelong learners. We are building future scholars and library patrons with each book. There can’t be too many books. Anyone who has interacted with a small child knows they are voracious consumers of information, soaking it up like sponges. Once you get a child started with books and reading, they will want more, and the Cedar Rapids Public Library is a tremendous resource for them. And Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is the perfect start for those future readers. By partnering with the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation, the Cedar Rapids Public Library is proud and excited to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to our community. Let’s get reading!

• Dara Schmidt is director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

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