Born to Read spreads the word about the importance of reading, talking, singing with children right from the start through outreach to families before birth, immediately after birth, and during the first 3 years of life. Last year, through these outreach strategies, we reached nearly 4000 parents and distributed over 2600 children’s books in our community.
Michigan is currently ranked 41st in the country in 4th grade reading levels. Nearly 70% of our state’s 4th graders are not reading at grade level. If nothing changes, our state will be ranked 48th by 2030. In the Grand Traverse region, only about 53% of 3rd graders are reading proficiently.
The root of this poor performance starts early. 40% of Michigan’s children enter Kindergarten at the lowest level of school readiness. Studies clearly show the importance of parents reading, talking, and singing with their children starting at birth. The first three years of life are the greatest and most critical period of brain growth. At age three, there are visible differences in brain development between children who are read to and those who are not. By the time children enter school this gap has increased. The more words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary, and the better prepared they are for school.
Children’s vocabulary and language skills are linked to their economic backgrounds. The vocabulary gap is evident in toddlers. By 18 months children in different socio-economic groups display dramatic differences in the sheer number of words they have heard. By 3 years of age, there is a 30 million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and those from the poorest families. This gap only gets worse as children struggle with reading and get further and further behind in school.
Reading, interacting with, telling stories, singing to babies 0-3 is the single most important things parents can do to help ensure their child’s school readiness and success. Yet, only 40% of parents read to their preschool children everyday; only 15% read with their babies, and just 7% read with them everyday.
Born to Read is trying to
change these disheartening statistics.
Expectant parents receive a card during their last trimester visit at Munson Medical Center. The card introduces Born to Read, describes the importance of reading to babies right from the start, and offers simple tips on how to read to infants and toddlers. Currently, we are exploring additional ways to reach expectant parents.
After delivery, parents of newborns at Munson receive a Welcome Baby packet, assembled by Rotarians. The Packet “For You and Your Baby” includes a book for baby, a certificate for another free book when they visit the Traverse Area District Library, information about brain development and why reading is important, and a free slice of pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company!
When new parents bring their certificate to the Traverse Area District Library they receive a Born to Read tote bag with a second free book as well as information about story times for infants and toddlers and other library activities. These tote bags, sponsored by Friends of the Library, are also distributed to parents of children birth to 3 during the library’s summer reading program.
In 2016, we recognized that while passing out a packet with a book and information is a nice introduction – it is far from sufficient to create lasting change and build new habits. We also understand that low-income families face the greatest challenges in preparing their children for school and often don’t have the time, transportation or energy to go to the library. And we know that the best way to teach both children and adults is face to face – talking to them, showing them. So, we started our Born to Read Ambassador program.
Ambassadors are trained volunteers who visit parents and young children in community locations – at baby pantries, neighborhood centers, laundromats. Our Ambassadors read with children, talk to parents about the difference daily reading can have in school and lifelong success, and give them books to take home. We now have 20 Ambassadors placed at 10 community sites in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. This is only the beginning. We want to grow this program to the 5-county region, involve more volunteers, and reach many more children and parents. YOU can help. Click here to learn more about volunteering.