The Boston Public Library (BPL) announced today the creation of the Future Readers Club, a program to help parents find simple, consistent, and fun ways to instill a love of reading in their babies, toddlers, and pre-K children, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning as an online program, it will expand to include activities at the Central Library and the BPL’s 25 branches once they reopen.
“From the very earliest stages of life, small children show an amazing curiosity and capacity for learning," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "Investing in early literacy is one of the most important ways to strengthen a child’s development. I am pleased to see how the Future Readers Club is supporting our youngest residents.”
“Right now, when so many camps and day cares are unable to open, ensuring that very young children have access to reading is one of the most important things the Library can do,” said BPL President David Leonard.
Research at Ohio State in 2019 suggests young children who are read at least one book a day hear 290,000 more words before kindergarten than those who are not read to regularly. Research reported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria, Australia, shows that reading to children 3-5 days per week (as compared to 2 days or less) has the same effect on a child’s reading skills at ages 4-5 as being six months older. These differences are not related to the child’s family background or home environment, but are the direct result of how frequently they have been read to prior to starting school, the research shows.
“Closing the gap in the numbers of words children hear before they enter kindergarten, and helping children develop the mental and behavioral connections that having books read to them creates could ultimately be reflected in everything from standardized testing and SAT scores to success in school and jobs in the future,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius.
The Future Readers Club program is made possible through a gift to the Boston Public Library Fund from an anonymous donor. The Boston Public Library Fund is the primary philanthropic channel of the BPL, charged with raising funds to create and expand new and imaginative programming for the public in line with the Library’s priorities.
Creating a community-wide love of reading in uncertain times
The Future Readers Club is designed to help parents and caregivers find simple ways to foster a love of reading at younger ages in these uncertain times. “We are calling it a Club, because we want small children and their families to feel a greater sense of belonging and to be excited about being part of this fun, new, citywide club that any small child can join,” said the BPL’s Leonard.
Free resources available now
Included in the program is a range of tools that parents can access immediately online at bpl.org/future-readers-club to get started, even while the Library’s physical branches are closed. These online resources include:
- A free, downloadable app called Beanstack that helps track a child’s individual reading milestones, provides fun virtual rewards for meeting certain reading achievements, and tracks community level achievements;
- A weekly live and archived online storytelling program for young children through which BPL children’s librarians or special guests read books aloud; and
- Lists of books and audiobooks in multiple languages geared to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers that parents can download free of charge from the library.
Once the Central Library and the branches reopen, the program will expand to include:
- Popular in-person story hours such as Wiggle and Walk (for babies), Toddler Story Time, Explore and Play (for Pre-K children), and evening Family Story Time;
- Onsite book giveaways in multiple languages; and
- Free special events the entire family can enjoy.
Closing the word gap
“We know that, particularly in today’s pandemic circumstances, parents and caregivers are stressed like never before,” said Leonard. “They are being expected to help school-aged children learn from home while simultaneously juggling one or more jobs, health and money concerns, and a host of other issues.”
“Free books, audiobooks, and story-time programs from the Library can help parents introduce more words to their children,” said Farouqua Abuzeit, BPL manager of youth services.
Reading 1,000 books before kindergarten is possible
The Future Readers Club will help very young children hear thousands more words before entering kindergarten. Modeled on the nationwide “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” initiative, the program will provide parents and caregivers with ways by which their infants and toddlers can hear at least 1 book a day 3-4 days each week.
“If we start when a baby is just a couple months old to read a picture book to them a few days a week, by the time they reach kindergarten they will have enjoyed 1,000 books,” said Abuzeit. “Reading together builds an association between reading and comfort. When you read together often, even young children can start to use ‘reading’ or looking at books as a form of self-soothing. And as you and your child enjoy reading together, your child will learn to love reading — a feeling that can last for life.”
Tips for helping very young children hear thousands more words and “read” 1,000 books by kindergarten
- Set aside just 10 minutes before bed to read a book. Make it a routine.
- Download a free audiobook and let your child listen to it while you are making dinner or doing another chore.
- Invite your child to sit in front of the computer to watch one of the BPL librarians or special guests read a book online at org/future-readers-club.
- Older children love reading to younger children. Have an older sibling pick out and download a book from the BPL and read it to a younger sibling.
- Small children love having the same book read to them over and over. Reading the same well-loved book 10 times doesn’t count as one book — it counts as 10 books. And eventually your child can “read” that book to him/herself.
Why should I read to my child before they start learning to read?
- Picture books have a rich vocabulary and often include language that your child might not hear in everyday conversation. Reading to your child introduces new vocabulary in context.
- When your child starts school, they will learn to sound out words, but sounding out a word only works if they have heard it before.
- Reading a book together is an important moment of connection between a child and a caring grownup. Use your reading time to cuddle up close.
- Most brain development happens in the first five years of life. Reading to your child helps build a stronger brain.
- As children interact with books — turning the pages, watching you point to the words and pictures, seeing the direction in which words flow — they learn how books physically work. This is a crucial first step in preparing them to read independently.
- Many picture book texts are rich in rhyme and rhythm. When children hear these books read aloud, they develop an awareness of sound patterns that will help them sound out words when they learn to read on their own.
- It’s never too early to develop visual literacy skills. As you and your child talk about what you see in books’ illustrations, your child learns to “read” the pictures, using book art to provide clues to the story.
- The more books your child hears, the more familiar they will be with basic storytelling structures (beginning, middle, and end; problem and solution; etc.).
- Understanding how stories work will prepare your child to talk about books at school.