By CAMILLE PHILLIPS, St. Louis Public Radio
Whether mom reads “Goodnight Moon” before bedtime every night for a month, or grandpa helps the kids check out seven new books each week, St. Louis County Library wants to make sure babies and toddlers are getting exposed to lots of different words.
To encourage parents to start reading to children early and often, the library launched a new program Monday called 1000 Books Before Kindergarten.
Families can pick up reading logs at their local library branch to participate in the program. The library will award prizes such as stickers, books and small toys when families hit milestones. Each time a book is read counts, and it doesn’t matter whether mom, dad, a sibling or the babysitter reads the book to the child.
“Studies really show that families who start reading aloud to their children at birth strengthen language skills and build vocabulary. And those are just two very important skills to have when they start Kindergarten,” said library director Kristen Sorth.
Part of the purpose of 1000 Books is to raise awareness about the importance of reading to children from an early age. Sorth said it builds on the library’s Born to Read program, which issues library cards to St. Louis County infants at birth.
“I think a lot of people feel strange reading to their babies. They think it’s silly because [the babies] don’t talk, or they think that maybe [the babies don’t] understanding what they’re saying, Sorth said.
“And we’re just trying to explain and make everyone understand that it is important to read regardless of how old the child is, and to sit together and have those words be spoken out loud so the kid can hear it.”
Sorth said a thousand books may seem like a lot, but the goal can be reached within three years if children are read one book a day.
Research shows that by the age of three children born in poverty have heard 30 million fewer words than children born into more well-off families.
That creates a gap in vocabulary and language skills that can put children at a disadvantage when they start school.
The 1000 Books initiative is funded by the St. Louis County Library Foundation and a grant from PNC Bank.