1 Book for Every 300 Children
While the neuroscience behind language acquisition and reading readiness is complex, the pathway to early literacy development is not. No special tools or toys are required — and in fact, some may actually get in the way. All a child needs is a caregiver with basic instruction on some purposeful activities that can be consistently worked into everyday activities.
The research into the effects of parent involvement is deep and compelling. Consider:
- Parental involvement in their child’s reading has been found to be the most important determinant of language and emergent literacy (Bus, van Ljzendoorn & Pellegrini, 1995).
- Parents who introduce their babies to books give them a head start in school and an advantage over their peers throughout primary school (Wade & Moore, 2000).
- Parental involvement in their child’s literacy practices is a more powerful force than other family background variables, such as social class, family size and level of parental education (Flouri & Buchanan, 2004).
- The earlier parents become involved in their children’s literacy practices, the more profound the results and the longer-lasting the effects (Mullis, Mullis, Cornille et al., 2004).
So if the solution is as simple as involved parents reading to their children and introducing some very basic skills, why do so many children enter kindergarten unprepared to learn? For many children, the answer is as simple as the solution — no books are available in their homes, or even in their pre-school classrooms. This is especially true among low-income families. A recent study found that in middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books to children was 13 to 1. In low-income neighborhoods, it was 1 to 300 (Neuman, Susan B., et al, 2001). 1 book for every 300 children.
For those same children attending pre-school programs or after-school programs, the news is no better. A 2001 study showed that 80% of preschool and after-school programs serving low-income populations have no age-appropriate books for their children (Neuman, Susan B., et al, 2001). Without access to books, the likelihood that these children will enter kindergarten ready to read is remote.
There is hope, however. Most of these children have access to the vast resources of a local public library. Just as libraries have helped close the Digital Divide, so too can they help overcome the Book Barrier. To do so requires work outside the library walls. Librarians need to be visible and vocal in the communities they serve through outreach to daycares, community centers, churches — and wherever else their community gathers. Parents need to know exactly how important it is to read to their children and understand that there are hundreds if not thousands of books available at the library.
Every child deserves the opportunity to start kindergarten with the basic skills needed to be successful. Our public libraries are uniquely positioned to help make that happen.