Thousands of books are getting into the homes of families with young children – and into the eager hands (and occasional mouths) of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers – thanks to a new DC program! Over 13,000 DC children are participating in Books from Birth, DC’s program that sends a free book every month to every child in the District under the age of five. While the program has seen success in its first year, reaching a sizable share of DC’s young children, there is room to grow to reach full enrollment. The DC Public Library is taking steps to increase enrollment in high-need neighborhoods that could benefit most from participation.
Low-income children have the most to gain from early literacy services like Books from Birth. Young children who have access to age-appropriate reading materials are more likely to become strong readers, which is linked to academic success when they enter school. Yet research shows that on average, children from lower-income families are exposed to 30 million fewer words within the first four years of life than children from higher-income families. This can lead to disparities in vocabulary and language processing between low-income and other children as early as 18 months, and a six-month gap found at 24 months of age.
These outcomes point to the importance of an early literacy strategy that begins at birth. The Books from Birth initiative, fully funded in the fiscal year 2017 budget and administered through the DC Public Library’s Sing, Talk, and Read program, has delivered 52,000 books to DC families between February and August of this year. This is a tremendous support for families who may not have the means to purchase the reading materials their child needs in the home environment.
The good news is that Books from Birth is reaching about two-thirds of the eligible families in neighborhoods designated as “target areas” by the DC Public Library, and about one-third of all eligible children city-wide. That also means there is room for improvement to reach more families. The Library is using strategies to further increase participation by launching an ambassador program and developing grassroots partnerships to continue to promote the benefits of enrolling in Books from Birth.
Parents and caregivers must enroll in the program to receive free books for their child – learn how to register here: http://www.dclibrary.org/booksfrombirth.
 Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” (2003, spring). American Educator, pp.4-9.
 Anne Fernald, Virginia A. Marchman, and Adriana Weisleder. SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Dev Sci. 2013 Mar; 16(2): 234–248.