Forty-seven percent of American children are starting school at a disadvantage, but the solution is simpler than you might think.
As obvious as it may sound, parents just have to read to their kids regularly at home. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 53 percent of preschoolers enjoy that advantage.
Through their partnership with the Brighton District Library, the Pregnancy Help Clinic in Brighton, Mich., is working to change that statistic.
For the first 35 years since its founding in 1975, the clinic concentrated on offering peer counseling to women in crisis pregnancies, adding free ultrasound and testing for STIs along the way.
In 2011, the center branched out to partner with the Brighton District Library’s Books for Babies program.
Carla Sharp, who heads the program at the Brighton District Library, said, “We give kits to mothers who are pregnant, which provides a bag full of age-appropriate books, brochures for parents and a bib that reads, ‘Books for Babies.’”
“Mothers can come in and we will give them a bag, educate them on reading to their child and help them in any way we can,” Sharp said. “We distribute the Books for Babies bags to several organizations to hand out.”
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The clinic and the library began teaming up when Mary Daugherty, who worked at the library and volunteered at the clinic, suggested the Books for Babies program could be more effective if it was implemented through the clinic’s Earn While You Learn program.
How Clients Earn While They Learn
As its title suggests, Earn While You Learn allows a client to earn Baby Bucks while learning parenting skills in free seminars. She can then trade her Baby Bucks in at the center’s boutique for baby gear, maternity clothes, and nursery supplies.
By participating just twice a month, expectant parents can provide all the clothes, wipes, and diapers their babies will need while gaining a much-needed parenting education.
Class topics include everything from love, bonding and discipline to nutrition, safe sleep and car seat safety. Moms, in particular, take advantage of the “Labor 101” and “Sleeping Through the Night” courses, while fathers can grow through “Dad’s Baby Care Bootcamp” and “Dad’s Team Mentoring.”
How the Clinic Enhances Books for Babies
Through Books for Babies, parents can also learn the value of literacy and the impact it can make in early childhood education. Shari Cornell, a program director at the Pregnancy Helpline, designed a course that compliments the Books for Babies program.
“Providing an educational unit that includes gifts and a 'free tour pass' at the library enhances the clients’ lives by introducing them to the many classes, workshops and borrowing opportunities available free of charge,” Ann O’Reilly, the clinic’s community outreach director, said.
“The clients especially love this unit when they come in for their lesson with their children. It is fabulous to see the moms and dads on the floor interacting and laughing with their kids as they learn rhythms and rhymes together.”
How Books for Babies Promotes Early Education
To help promote national literacy, United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, puts together Books for Babies kits. Libraries, WIC offices and other organizations help distribute the kits, including the 150 kits the Pregnancy Help Clinic has given to families over the years.
The kits include a booklet called “Babies Love Books,” a board book like “Baby’s First Book,” and brochures with reading advice for parents. Also included are Baby’s First Library Card, a bib with the Books for Babies logo, and a bookmark with advice on reading to infants.
Not only is reading to children a great way to develop their rhyming and repetition skills, it’s also a great bonding experience, improves their auditory, listening, and memorization abilities, and helps them pick up things quicker once they start school.
“The biggest thing that we want parents to understand is that a baby will make an association with being held to the desire to read,” Margaret Vergith, the library’s media relations coordinator, said. “The earlier you start making these associations, the quicker a child will learn.”