Asheville – The Buncombe County Library System’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program sounds very daunting. One might imagine tiny tots all across the county daily whipping through the likes of War and Peace, A la recherche du temps perdu, or even Harrison’s Internal Medicine.
Actually, it’s nothing of the sort. The program is designed to get caregivers, among whom just a few parents might be, to read to their children. Studies show a lot of things, but the unnamed studies invoked with a conversational tone for a press release from the county “show a child’s brain develops rapidly in the first three years of their life.” Children whose parents read to them typically have better letter recognition skills and vocabulary upon entering kindergarten.
It sounds good on the surface, but one apprehension might be that this is a trick to force kids to read some of those dirty children’s books that keep making headlines on cable news. Well, it isn’t. The program doesn’t come with a reading list, and books don’t even have to be checked out of a public library, but they may be.
The parent or caregiver only has to record what titles he is reading with the child in an official journal to be picked up at the library. Each page of the journal has an early literacy tip “for caregivers to model to their child.” When a child has been read 500 books, the journal may be presented to any Buncombe County library, and the child will be given a canvas tote bag for his efforts. Upon reading 1,000 books, the child will be presented with a certificate.
If logging books for a certificate feels too invasive, there’s nothing stopping families from reading 1,000 books anyway. Participants, however, should log all books, no matter who reads them to the child. Parents may read to all their children at once if they like. Although the organizers say, “Yes, you can repeat books,” they probably don’t mean you can read the same book 1,000 times.
1,000 Books Before Kindergarten is run by the 1,000 Books Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity based in Las Vegas, Nevada. It receives a lot of funding from Nevada companies, firms, and foundations, and it supports programs throughout the United States and Canada. It also allows individuals, for-profit or nonprofit organizations, or government bodies to sponsor programs or parts thereof in particular communities. For example, in some programs in the western United States, John’s Incredible Pizza or NN Burger will give children coupons or freebies for reaching their first reading milestone. All personnel at 1,000 Books headquarters are volunteers.
Beyond getting over a million caregivers to read to children, the foundation either provides tools or works with partnerships to help kids of any age learn to read. On or about October 2 every year, the foundation hosts The Big Read. Parents all over the world need only read a book to their child, post a picture of the event, and post it on social media with the year’s hashtag. This is a great fundraiser because an optional activity is to donate $1 to the foundation.
The foundation reports that studies, also unspecified, estimate that “as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read. “Numerous other uncited studies “have shown that parents who expose children to early language and literacy create a bond that teaches vocabulary, introduces the connection between pictures and words, and promotes quality time spent with the people they love the most.”
1,000 Books collects no money from people wishing to participate in the program, although parents and their children later on may pick up some expensive book habits. Parents could also incur expenses if they wish to buy their children gifts for reaching intermediate milestones.
In Buncombe County, the program was paid for out of the public libraries’ budget, and it was designed by the county’s librarians. It kicked off on August 12 at the East Asheville Library, where, in the setting of a children’s fair, people learned about the program and received 1,000 Books journals. From there, jazzed parents apparently have been doing a good job spreading the word because a lot of folks have come into the library asking for journals and more information. A few weeks into the program, the library system has given away “several hundred” journals to families “from all over the county.”
Leadership in the Buncombe County Library system plans to set aside funding for the program for years to come. Early childhood education and kindergarten readiness has been a strategic priority of the county commissioners for years. This year and last, the county set aside about $4 million for pre-K programs and educators.