Helping Young Children Build Personal Libraries

Aug 27, 2015

A handful of philanthropy groups are coming together to get more books in the hands of children from low-income families.

In a collaboration with Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read, Medicaid-eligible children in Cincinnati will be able to receive a free book every month from birth to age five.

Greg Landsman is with the Strive Partnership. He says the goal is to increase literacy and prepare kids for school. He says if kids are more prepared earlier, they're chances of reaching third grade reading proficiency by age nine or 10 are better.

"To get to that key moment in third grade when they're reading successfully," he says, "that will change their lives. And that will change the city. This is just a piece of a much broader, more comprehensive effort to transform this city and lift thousands of kids out of poverty."

Landsman says doctors will work with pregnant women and families to enroll children in the free book program.

"Everyone moves," says Landsman. "Particularly those who are struggling financially tend to move more often." But he says Imagination Library, which has been around for 20 years, has found that many families inform the program when they move. "Because it means a lot to the kids to have that book come every month, so they want to keep the Imagination Library folks up to speed in terms of where they are so the books keep coming."

The program has a commitment of nearly $1 million for three years. If successful, Landsman says Cincinnati Public Schools has committed to absorbing the program in 2019.

In a news release, Superintendent Mary Ronan says "Too many of our youngsters grow up with very few books in their home. On average, low-income families across the country have only two or fewer age-appropriate books in their residence. Together, we are all working to ensure rapid changes are made so our students have books available for reading at home to better prepare them for school."

The philanthropy groups collaborating on the program have created a new venture fund called Every Child Capital. According to the release, Every Child Capital "seeks to transform philanthropy to ensure more private and public dollars are directed - and sustained - toward what works."

Every Child Capital is laying out five anticipated outcomes:

Partners in the program anticipate the following results over the first three years:

·       Every Medicaid-eligible child participating will have a home library containing up to 60 high quality books over 5 years in the program, on par with middle-income families.

·       Improved literacy scores ranging from 10 to 40 percent (based on studies done by Imagination Library in dozens of other communities).

·       Children have larger vocabularies, greater brain stimulation, and are more likely to be ready for kindergarten – a key predictor of reading successfully by third grade.

·       Better communication with incoming kindergarten parents about enrollment, immunizations, and school start dates so that kids arrive on time and ready.

·       Estimated savings of over $500,000 a year for Cincinnati Public Schools as a result of several factors, including fewer third grade student retentions and less need for reading specialists, as well as more accurate staffing plans for incoming kindergarten students.