Crunching the numbers of early literacy

Dec. 24, 2012 @ 03:34 PM

You still have time to give a book to a local child in need! Durham’s Partnership for Children’s Annual Barnes & Noble Holiday Book Drive runs through Dec. 31 at the Southpoint location.

“Green Eggs and Ham” is one of the best-selling English-language children's hardcover books of all time. It is also one of the first books I ever read aloud to my son when he was born a year and a half ago. Many who have read this Dr. Seuss classic know that the vocabulary of the text famously consists of only 50 different words. I believe those 50 words, with their simple, repetitive cadence, made an impression on my son’s earliest days of life and sparked the love for books he has today.
Despite loving that book, it is just one among many in our household, as research consistently shows that having books in the home is a powerful predictor of academic success. According to a 2010 study in the scholarly journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, children growing up in homes with many books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes; this is totally independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class. Providing access to reading materials is the first and most important step in encouraging literacy development.
One of the key goals of Durham’s Partnership for Children’s (the Partnership) Annual Barnes & Noble Holiday Book Drive is to put books on shelves in the homes of young children and families who need them most. Now in its seventh year, the drive has successfully distributed great children’s books to more than 25 community agencies serving children in home visiting programs, social services, medical facilities, and a variety of family support and family literacy programs.
This is an important way to reach families, especially those with little to no disposable income that cannot afford to buy books.
It is estimated that nationally, 61 percent of children from low-income families have no books at all in the home. Research from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics shows that 64 percent of families whose incomes are at or above the poverty level read to their preschoolers on a daily basis compared to only 48 percent of families below the poverty level. This lack of daily engagement can have devastating results.
Surprisingly, the number of families here in Durham County that are struggling is higher than you might believe. Many children – 5,926 – are living below the poverty level. And 12,046 children, birth to age 5, live in low-income households.
When given print material to read, children display a more positive attitude toward reading, improved literacy skills, and higher reading achievement. Greater access to books helps children develop basic reading skills such as letter and word identification, phonemic awareness, and completion of sentences.
Vocabulary size in early childhood is also directly linked to language test scores and reading comprehension in elementary years. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documents that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words (not all unique of course!) than their more affluent peers before the age of 4. Studies show that this is critical because the more words parents use when speaking to an infant, the greater the size of their child's vocabulary at age 3.
All of these numbers add up to one significant reality; children who aren’t reading by grade level at third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school than proficient readers, according to America’s Promise Alliance.
That is why building early literacy skills in the 23,264 children, from birth to age 5 living in Durham County, is so essential for our community. As a strong community we have the resources and the obligation to do just that.
The Durham County Public Library currently has about 79,630 children’s books system-wide, 6,635 of which are Spanish-language books. The library also offers an “At Birth Card” – or ABC card – to new babies in Durham County. Durham Connects, the nurse home-visiting program offered to all babies born in Durham County, helps to distribute the ABC library cards as well as more than 2,000 new, age-appropriate books to babies annually.
Durham Connects is just one example of a birth-to-5 focused organization that receives new children’s books each holiday season from the Partnership’s annual book drive. Over the past six years, the Partnership has given out 20,000+ new children’s books through this campaign.
As a community member, you can contribute to this campaign, here is how:
Purchase and donate just one of the nearly 13,000 different titles of children’s books currently on shelves at Barnes & Noble Southpoint on or before Dec. 31. Simply purchase a great children’s book at the register at the Southpoint store and leave it behind the counter for Partnership staff to collect and distribute to young children in need. What an easy way to join the cause of improving literacy across Durham County.
By joining this community effort, you are providing a Durham child with his or her first book, building a child’s vocabulary, encouraging a family to read together, and growing more proficient readers – pretty amazing. This campaign is an investment in our community. Each word, each book, each donation makes a difference.
Join me.
Christiaan Heijmen is a Durham resident, husband and father, and is the managing director of executive search at Vaco Raleigh, LLC.