Early childhood literacy matters. Academic success depends on reading, yet nearly one and five school children have trouble reading. The 1000 Books Before Kindergarten challenge was founded to jumpstart early childhood literacy. It encourages reading to children.
According to the University of Virginia’s Kindergarten Readiness Program, as many as 34% of children are unprepared to start kindergarten. They lack at least one of four critical learning domains: literacy, mathematics, self-regulation, and social skills.
Formal education in this country doesn’t begin until children start kindergarten when they’re 5. That is too late to start learning.
Parents and other caregivers take care of children in the critical first five years of life. Few have any teacher training, but all of them influence a child’s development for better or worse.
Children learn to speak by hearing others speak to them. The more words they hear, the easier it will be to learn a large working vocabulary.
In the same way, the more someone reads to them, the easier it will be for them to learn to read. When parents speak to their babies a lot and read to them, it promotes not only learning once they get to school. It also helps with parent-child bonding.
Can parents read a thousand books to their children before kindergarten? If that seems like a lot, any span of five years equals 1,826 days.
Reading a thousand books, then, doesn’t even require reading one book every day. In fact, reading one book per day will add up to a thousand before the end of three years.
The challenge doesn’t require a thousand different books. Repeated books count. Children love to hear the same books over and over.
And although parents need to read to their children, the challenge doesn’t require parents to do all the reading. Reading to children by grandparents, older siblings, daycare staff, and librarians all count toward developing preschool literacy.
The importance of shared reading
The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) started in 2004 with 4,768 children less than a year old. It followed them until they were four and eight years old. Trained interviewers spoke with the parents face to face during the study. The majority of parents, 61.6%, read to their children every day when they were two. Another 21.1% read to theirs from three to five days a week.
The effects of this reading lasted a long time. The more often parents read to two-year-olds, the more likely the same children had good academic skills when they were four or five. These skills include good knowledge of spoken words and the ability to recognize and copy shapes.
Specifically, children who heard and saw the most books at two could write words and numbers better than others before they reached kindergarten. The experience also seemed to enhance the children’s math ability as late as age eight or nine.
The study found that children from disadvantaged families actually benefited the most from their parents’ reading to them. We usually think of children from disadvantaged families having more trouble in school. Frequent shared reading to disadvantaged two-year-olds can bridge the gap once the children start kindergarten.
Is it only the reading that benefits children? Or do parents who read to their children the most also provide more of other kinds of stimulation? The study controlled for indicators of each child’s intelligence.
It also controlled for other activities parents shared, including drawing pictures, playing music, or playing with toys or games. These built-in controls demonstrated that shared reading by itself gives the children long-term advantages. If parents devote as little as ten minutes a day to reading to their children, it gives them a great head start once they get to kindergarten.
1000 Books Before Kindergarten in Libraries
Libraries help foster preschool literacy in other ways besides storytimes. Hundreds of libraries in the US and Canada have partnered with the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Foundation. Many more join the program all the time.
Librarians at the Fairfield Public Library in Connecticut have put ten books in each of 100 backpacks. They carefully curated them and arranged them by theme, character, or author. Parents create an account and keep track of the reading.
They can register more than one child, provided that they haven’t started kindergarten yet. They can log the children’s progress online or with an app on their phone or tablet. Or even tell Alexa to do it.
Whenever children read 500 books, they earn a free book to keep. The library inducts those who complete 1,000 books into its Hall of Fame. It also offers other small prizes along the way.
The Roanoke County Library in Virginia launched its 1000 Books Before Kindergarten in January 2020. In the first week, parents signed up almost 150 children. The library offers prizes for reaching the milestones of 50, 200, 400, 600, 800, and 1,000 books.
1000 Books Before Kindergarten website
If you can only do one thing for your children, it should be shared reading / Amelia Shahaeian and Cen Wang, The Conversation. [July 1, 2018]
1000 Books Before Kindergarten / Fairfield Public Library
Roanoke County libraries launch 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten challenge / Alison Graham, The Roanoke Times. January 9, 2020