Valley Parents: 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten incentivizes grown-ups to read to their children

Youth Services Librarian Amy VanderKooi, center, reads “What Pete Ate from A to Z” during story time at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Youth Services Librarian Amy VanderKooi, center, reads “What Pete Ate from A to Z” during story time at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Names of children participating in the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program decorate the wall at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. The program encourages young children to get excited about reading, and after every 100 books they read participants can collect a sticker or a prize like a tote bag or free book. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Names of children participating in the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program decorate the wall at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. The program encourages young children to get excited about reading, and after every 100 books they read participants can collect a sticker or a prize like a tote bag or free book. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

John Crossley, right, helps his sons Casper, 4, center, and Hector, 7, draw dinosaurs that start with the first letter of their names during story time at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. The theme of the week for story time was the alphabet, and participants decorated letters after reading alphabet books. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

John Crossley, right, helps his sons Casper, 4, center, and Hector, 7, draw dinosaurs that start with the first letter of their names during story time at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. The theme of the week for story time was the alphabet, and participants decorated letters after reading alphabet books. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Anna Marie DeVito, left, reads a book with her son Max DeVito, 2, both of Hartland, Vt., during story time at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Anna Marie DeVito, left, reads a book with her son Max DeVito, 2, both of Hartland, Vt., during story time at the Hartland Public Library in Hartland, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 02-26-2024 1:12 PM

HARTLAND — With plenty of books at home and regular visits to the children’s section of the Hartland Public Library, Marly Ashworth understands the value of reading to her young children.

That’s where the family participates in the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program: Ashworth’s oldest daughter, Ellis, 5, completed 1,000 books already, and her younger daughter, Rhys, 2, is on her way to the same accomplishment.

“It’s been wonderful,” Ashworth said. “They keep a tally at the library and make it so easy to check mark books (that have been read).”

The program is free for families and libraries — though there are materials that can be purchased from the 1,000 Books by Kindergarten foundation, a national nonprofit based in Nevada — and can be structured and designed to suit each library’s needs and resources.

Amy VanderKooi, children’s librarian at the Hartland Public Library, said they began 1,000 Books not quite two years ago.

“For us, it is recognizing how important it is for kids to be read to at a young age and how that translates into lots of literary skills down the road,” VanderKooi said.

Visible benchmarks at the Hartland library from the program engage and encourage children to love reading. Participants can also chart their progress at home, adding to the fun.

In Hartland, a pillar in the library has large, colorful crayon cutouts and a child’s name on each one. As children reach a milestone — such as reading 100 or 200 books — the number is pasted on the crayon and the child earns a small prize such as a tote bag, small stuffed animal or a free book.

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“The kids get their name up there and, for little kids, that’s exciting,” VanderKooi said about the crayon cutouts.

Families get log sheets to take home and when a child reads a book, they can color a small picture. Books read during story time at the library or maybe with a grandparent over Zoom also count.

“We have different ways to encourage that excitement and participation,” VanderKooi said. “It is really fun to see when they bring their sheets back and you see how they personalize them, such as coloring them in, using a different color on different days. It is something that becomes part of the ritual with the family.”

Ashworth said their involvement at the library was “kick-started” in late 2020 during the COVID-19 when they could order a bag of books and pick it up curbside. When the library reopened, Ashworth visited regularly with her children and was impressed by the large children’s book collection. She signed up Ellis for 1,000 Books, and her daughter was immediately engaged, keeping close track of the books she read.

“She could sit for an hour or two and read with us,” Ashworth said, adding that Ellis attends a nearby preschool and they come over to the library for reading days. “That was all because of that program and because of the Hartland Library. It has been a big part of our life the last four years.”

VanderKooi said they have flyers around the library promoting the program. When families come in with preschool-aged children, staff members try to bring it up.

“We let parents know and encourage them to sign up,” VanderKooi said.

While 1,000 books may seem like a lot, VanderKooi said they are usually short books with not many words and mostly pictures. Reading the same book several times counts toward the 1,000.

“If you read one book a night, then you are done in three years,” VanderKooi said.

Upon completion, the child is rewarded with a certificate.

In Claremont, Renee Mayer and her daughter, Martille, now 6 and a first-grader at Maple Avenue Elementary School, began the program at Fiske Free Library in earl 2021 amid the pandemic.

The family had moved to Claremont from the West Coast a couple months prior after Mayer’s husband got a job offer. They knew no one in the community, and there was no preschool because of the pandemic.

“The only place I could take her was the library,” Mayer said. “I was blown away by the children’s section. It is an amazing collection.”

Though she had read to her daughter from a young age, Mayer said they decided to sign up for 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten and read books from the library even though they had plenty of books at home.

“I wanted to develop that relationship with our family and our library,” Mayer said. “It became part of our weekly routine: Get 20 books from the library and read each one and record what we read on the paper they give you. We wanted to expose her to as many books and stories as possible.

“It was really inspiring,” Mayer added. “It is such a great program to do with kids, and the library makes it fun.”

Fiske Library had run the program for several years, but interest waned during COVID. More recently, children’s librarian Martha DeTore-Woods has been working to bring awareness to the program for families with young children.

Tina Bergeron’s 6-year-old son, Jevin, completed the program at Fiske in 2022, and her 2-year old, Rhyer, will begin it later. She credits DeTore-Woods for making 1,000 Books fun and engaging for the children. They get tally sheets they can color in, receive prizes and stickers for each 100 books read.

“We like to make it a big deal because it is,” DeTore-Woods said.

After kids read 1,000 books, they earn a framed certificate, a medal and a free book at a small ceremony at the library.

“He loved it, and it gave him that much more incentive to read,” Bergeron said about Jevin. “It is a great program to keep you on track to read to your kids, and it is a good way for kids to keep you on track as well.”

Bergeron also organizes a monthly reading program on Sunday mornings at the Elks Club with a guest reader and three free books for children who attend.

VanderKooi said even though many children entering kindergarten can’t read yet, the program places them in an environment where they get comfortable with reading.

“Having that familiarity with reading and being read to, starting to have recognition of letters and also liking to read because it has been such a positive part of their life, goes a long way both in literary skills and the comfort that goes along with it,” VanderKooi said.

The parents, she said, get a lot out of it as well.

“Most parents are excited to read to their kids because it is a nice time to be together and it is a way to validate the importance of reading,” VanderKooi said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.