Many parents do not realize that learning and kindergarten readiness begins at birth. It is the simple daily interactions that parents have with their child that set the foundation for reading and prepare them for school – talking, singing, playing, writing, and reading. A study by Zero to Three found 45% of parents believe “the benefits of reading together start two years old or older” when in fact “children’s language skills benefit from reading with parents and caregivers beginning at about six months old.” Libraries are in a key position to not only help educate new parents about the importance of reading and learning with your child, regardless of their age.
The project started locally in the Jefferson Regional Foundation footprint with Kids Plus Pediatrics. Bags were created at ACLA and distributed to parents at the one-month visit. The goals were to create awareness of the public library and to educate parents about the importance of early literacy and reading to their child. Successful, yet hard to track whether patients were visiting a library, the Foundation funded another round for libraries in the area. Whitehall Public Library, Baldwin Borough Public Library, Brentwood Library and Jefferson Hills Public Library continued the goals of the original bags but on a smaller scale within each of their respective communities – partnering with local organizations (in some cases) and providing incentives for parents to return to the library to attend baby storytime or get a library card.
The work in the Jefferson Regional Foundation footprint was written about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and funding from other foundations has currently made it possible for libraries across Allegheny County to start baby bag programs. To date, an additional eight libraries have started programs and with another winter and spring funding round, it is anticipated that an additional 10-20 will begin programs.
Each bag contains related items like books, manipulatives, and other resources for parents; however, each bag is individualized to the specific library. For example, the baby bags at Bethel Park Public Library include Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, a shaker egg, baby flashcards, crayons, and a scarf, as well as resources and tip sheets for parents. These items all correspond to one of the five early literacy practices mentioned above. The items and resources will extend the work done at the library in baby programming to the home and give parents the confidence to be an active participant in their baby’s learning.
For some libraries, collaboration is key to making this project successful and reaching as many new parents as possible – new parents who might also be new patrons. Jefferson Hills Public Library partnered with Jefferson Hospital and Sewickley Public Library plans to partner with Sewickley Hospital for distribution. Andrew Bayne Memorial Library plans to partner with Genesis and many others hope to work with local community organizations.
Libraries are currently evaluating the success of the project through a variety of diverse ways. Some are providing an incentive to return to the library, another board book, or a gift card. Some are tracking by program attendance, library card registration and circulation of certain materials. At the same time, it is difficult to measure success for some areas of this program – a child was provided a book or other learning resource that they might not otherwise have had, a family became aware of the local library that they did not know was there and a parent realized the importance of early literacy and being their child’s first teacher.
For more information about these projects, follow ACLA Youth Services on Facebook or check your local library website.