Raising A Reader Gets Children Started Early
Three years of reading programs and partnerships yield big results for children, parents, and libraries.
Posted Thu, 07/15/2010 - 10:44
A happy reader gets her own library card and blue book bag at Multnomah County Library.
The child-care room buzzes with activity at the end of the school year. Children laugh and parents chat about their summer plans. When the librarian from Seattle Public Library comes in, the children gather around for story time. As she closes the book at the end of the story, the excitement mounts. Everyone knows this is a special day.
Every week, all year long, the children have borrowed bright red bags full of books from their classroom. Every week, all year long, they have dutifully returned the bags. But today is different. Today, all the children will get their very own blue bag to keep and use every time they visit the library.
This ceremony marks the conclusion of the third successful year that Raising A Reader has collaborated with Seattle Public Library, solidifying a vital partnership between the library and child-care providers. The librarians create lasting friendships with the children and their parents, who in turn learn the benefits of introducing their children to reading.
“While these friendships benefit each participating family, the biggest winners are the kids,” said CiKeithia Pugh, SPL’s program manager. This year’s graduating class has not only learned to use the library, but they will also enter school in the fall better prepared for a successful educational experience.
Raising A Reader is a national nonprofit organization that offers an evidence-based early-literacy and parent-engagement program. It currently serves 110,000 children through its 2,500 affiliate sites across the country. During the program, each child is exposed to approximately 100 books per year, and parents and caregivers are trained in interactive read-aloud strategies. This training helps parents and caregivers learn how to engage their child by sharing a book.
The program works by rotating bright red bags filled with award-winning books into children’s homes on a weekly basis. Through Raising A Reader, families are connected with their local public library. At the culmination of the program, children receive a blue library bag to keep and continue the practice of borrowing books, just like the Raising A Reader graduates from Seattle Public Library.
With its mission of engaging parents in a daily “book cuddling” routine, the program fosters healthy brain development, parent-child bonding, and early literacy skills critical for school success. According to a 2009 survey by the Pearson Foundation, 73% of Americans incorrectly believe that if children enter kindergarten unprepared, they will catch up in elementary school. Another 75% are completely unaware that nearly 61% of low-income families do not have any age-appropriate books in their homes. These statistics not only paint a grim picture for early literacy, but also contribute to the fact that nearly half of all U.S. children enter kindergarten lacking the early reading skills needed for success in school. Early literacy programs such as Raising A Reader are helping to mitigate this crisis.
For Multnomah County (Ore.) Library, Raising A Reader has been a trusted ally in targeting immigrant families and families at risk for low literacy, who do not use the library in traditional ways. At Multnomah County Library, like all other libraries, individuals can apply for a library card and use it to borrow as many books as they like. While this practice is simple enough for those who regularly take advantage of it, many unfamiliar with using a library are discouraged by the technicalities. For these people, things like library cards, overdue fines, and transportation are all barriers.
Rather than insisting that these families conform to traditional library practice, Raising A Reader works with libraries to offer a gentle and comfortable introduction to library services for families that are not familiar with approaching a library.
“Raising A Reader and its library partners ease parents into the program by talking with them at scheduled parent evenings, helping families develop an awareness of the variety of quality children’s books that can be found in a good collection, and extending personal invitations to visit their local library with the blue Raising A Reader bag,” said Gabrielle Miller, executive director of Raising A Reader.
More than a dozen independent evaluations have shown the success of Raising A Reader:
- In Norfolk, Virginia, the number of parents sharing books with children five or more times per week increased by 75%;
- Nationally, Raising A Reader 5-year-olds in Head Start scored 69% higher in pre-reading and 59% higher in book knowledge than other Head Start 5-year-olds or older children;
- In Santa Clara County, California, after completing the program, the number of Spanish-speaking parents taking their preschool children to the library at least once per month increased from 6% to 27%.
“No other library service has the outcome-based evaluation results that Raising A Reader has,” said Nell Colburn, librarian at Multnomah County Library. “Our evaluations consistently show substantial gains in changing parent and caregiver behaviors around books and reading.”
ALICIA SANTAMARIA is the community outreach manager for Raising A Reader.