1000 Books Before Kindergarten: A Passive Program with Enormous Benefits!

Family reading time.

Is there anything more fun in children’s library work than supporting early literacy with preschoolers and their parents? It is one of the most rewarding parts of our work, and it provides a vital support network that prepares children for the great adventure of learning to read when they enter school. Below are just a few of the active ways librarians promote early literacy:

A subtler but equally impressive method that many libraries have been turning to is starting a 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative. This passive, DIY program encourages parents to work together with their child to read at least 1,000 books during their preschool years. Libraries create a framework, similar to a summer library program, wherein they provide tracking materials for parents to take home to keep a record of the books they read. Most libraries also encourage return visits to the library for periodic check-ins and rewards to motivate tots and their grown-ups to continue toward their goal.

The program was first developed by Sandy Krost, of the Bremen Public Library in Indiana. She was inspired by a statement in Mem Fox’s Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001): “No wonder experts tell us that children need to hear a thousand stories read aloud before they begin to read for themselves. One-thousand! That sounds daunting.” It was a challenge that Krost used to build the very first 1,000 Books initiative. After she piloted the program, she shared her success on the PUBYAC listserv, and from there, the program began its growth across the country.

A 1,000 Books program can be extremely flexible. It can be based on or complement themes, mascots or landmarks that are unique to your community. It can be developed to have check-ins at the library after every 100 books, quarterly after 250 books, or just at registration and completion. Parents provide the reading power and preschoolers provide the growing mind. Depending on budgets and funding, libraries often offer incentives at the beginning, the end, and along the way, such as books, CDs, finger puppets, stickers, bookmarks, stamps or a plethora of other preschool-friendly items.

1,000 Books Before KindergartenBecause new children are always coming into the community (and the world!), a 1,000 Books program can be quite open-ended. The goal is to have children finish before they enter kindergarten. Once the initiative is planned and launched, there is very little ongoing administrative support needed beyond the pleasure of watching families return to the library and cheerleading their efforts.

So how does a 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program work in a practical way? Let me share our experience at La Crosse Public Library in Wisconsin.

We initially formed a focus group of community providers, parents and early childhood experts with whom we could discuss ideas. Their feedback helped us get started. We chose seeds, flowers and gardening as the theme of our program. There are three goals for our program: encourage parents to read widely to their preschoolers, encourage frequent return visits and check-outs at the library, and help parents understand that they are preparing their child for later reading success.

When parents sign up for the program, they receive a folder, a sheet to record 100 books read, a book bag with our 1,000 Books logo (great advertising around the community!) and simple instructions. Because we have 3 locations, we use a very basic database where we record the child’s name and birthdate, parent name and email address (an Excel® sheet can work as well). Emails are simply used to alert families when we have special 1,000 Books family events, such as “graduation” parties, visits by book characters, or special before- or after-hours events at the library. After signing up, families are sent off to read!

When we began our program, we asked our families to list every book read. We quickly realized that many busy families were reluctant to join the program because they felt that level of reporting was overwhelming. Within a year, we developed a simple sheet of 100 seeds for the parent or child to color in as they progress, along with lines to list their favorite books. On the back of each sheet we include early literacy tips that highlight the ECRR practices of playing, reading, writing, singing and talking with your child.

Each time a family returns to the library to turn in a completed sheet of 100 books and pick up a new one, we update the child’s database record and hand the child a sticker to add to our giant wall mural of flowers (each level of 100 books has its own flower color). When we began the program, we offered many incentives along the course of the program. We quickly found out the stickers children received at every 100 books level, as well as the book they received when they reached their goal of 1,000 books, delighted the children more than anything and kept them coming back frequently. The staff agreed that offering the book bag, stickers, a finger puppet halfway through and the final book worked perfectly for our community.

We wanted to make the program sustainable over a long period of time, so we were careful to keep the materials affordable. It is our goal to have this program available to children and families for at least ten years and beyond. We raised all the money for the program, including performers for our 1,000 Books events, through community fundraising (memorials, service clubs and personal appeals).
1,000 Books Before Kindergarten

What kind of outcomes have we realized? We have over 1,000 children involved in the program, both as individual families and in child care programs. We see frequent return visits by our families to check-in when they reach each level. Our picture book circulation shot up an average of 10% in the first 2 years of the program, and it has remained in the 3–4% increase range since then.

Our school district, day cares, family resource centers, medical clinics and other child-serving community organizations have embraced the initiative and helped us keep word of this initiative growing. These partnerships have been invaluable in helping us promote and advocate the importance of reading aloud to preschoolers and empowering parents as their child’s first teacher.

The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program is an excellent way to involve parents and families as powerful personal educators for their children. By having parents as the primary partners in this library program, libraries can extend their early literacy work right into community homes!

For more examples of how libraries are running 1,000 Books programs, research to help you develop the case for adding this program in your library, and more, I recommend the “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Is Still Rockin’!” blog post and check out the links and resources below.


Marge Loch-Wouters

Marge Loch-Wouters

Marge has over 40 years of experience in children's services and is an adjunct lecturer at University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Library & Information Studies. In her role as a consultant, she has presented numerous workshops, webinars and training on all aspects of youth services both statewide and nationally. In 2010, she was honored as the Wisconsin Library Association Demco Librarian of the Year. Marge blogs at Tiny Tips for Library Fun (tinytipsforlibraryfun.blogspot.com) and tweets at @lochwouters.