The Impact of Reading to a Child Touches Areas from Success in School to Economic Development
As a country, we care deeply about our children. Nurturing and seeing them develop to their full potential is something we hold dear. We cherish watching as they discover themselves and the world around them. The times we spend sharing a book with a child are among our fondest memories.
Reading with children even impacts our economy: At the library we have seen parents, grandparents and caregivers bringing children in for their earliest reading experience for decades. It seems like libraries have been doing story times for children forever. People have long recognized the educational value of teaching a child to read. But few realize that these simple acts of reading with children are also powerful and effective tools of economic development. Economists at the Federal Reserve have stated that investment in education of children at an early age can reap extraordinarily high economic returns, benefits that are low-risk and long-lived. Indeed, the Federal Reserve says it is a far better investment than the billions of dollars spent each year on high-risk economic development schemes.
Skills are needed for success: Nearly a decade ago, the library in Mahoning County was inspired by research from the National Institutes of Health on how reading impacts the development of a baby’s brain. Simply put: To be successful in school, and in life, there are skills a child needs to develop. Developing those skills starts at the very beginning. For a child to be successful in school, they need to know how to read. Being able to read depends on knowing words. Before you discover words, you need to know letters. Knowing letters means you have to recognize shapes.
Once you get behind, it’s difficult to catch up: Sadly, most who fall behind never catch up. And the cost of that failure is high to all of us. That’s why a growing number of policymakers, business leaders, and philanthropists have embraced early literacy as a priority. They’ve recognized a simple truth. Children are born ready to learn, but not ready to start school.
A different approach to serving children: Some years ago, the Mahoning County library system reinvented its approach to serving children. Librarians were trained in early childhood development skills. As a next step, we included parents and caregivers. Through grants and partnerships with other organizations, the Library created special tools to help parents and caregivers create successful readers. In a break from past traditions, parents and caregivers were invited to join their children in story times. In those story times, librarians model the behaviors which embed these early literacy skills in their children. The library conducts thousands of story times every year and works directly with providers of childcare in all parts of Mahoning County.
Libraries reach more children: In our society there are many wonderful people and initiatives working with children. But there are none working as directly and continuously as the public library with as many children from such an early age and from such widely varying backgrounds. Income doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where you live. The only requirement is caring about improving the life of a child. Story times start at only a few months old. And they continue through age five. With this new awareness, the next time you see a story time advertised, you’ll recognize the serious purpose behind the fun.
Sadly, much of this is in jeopardy. The rapid loss of state funding in 2009, following a steady decline by the state that actually began a decade ago, puts the Library's work with children at risk. The services that the community presently receives may no longer be sustainable. There is a lot at stake for the people of Mahoning County in the decisions facing the Library and the community, as we plan for the future in this climate of diminishing funds.
Share your thoughts with us: Are library programs that encourage the development of children worth supporting? Do you take your child to a library? Did reading at an early age have an impact on your child? What has the Library's early literacy program meant to you? Has a librarian made a difference in your child's life? What are your thoughts about using story time as a way to educate parents and caregivers? Should they be set aside? Comment here or or pick up a flyer in any public library in Mahoning County to give us your input.