If you’re expecting a baby or are a new parent, you may have received books at a baby shower or your little one’s first birthday. While it may feel like it’s too early to start reading to your child if they aren’t even talking yet, the truth is, your baby can benefit from being read to before they’re even born.
From the womb on, reading to your child offers benefits that can last a lifetime. Children who read with their parents daily are more likely to have advanced language skills, strengthened familial bonds, and better success once starting school, compared to their peers who do not read regularly with family members.
The long-term advantages of children having access to books early in life are undeniable. When the opportunity to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book gifting program for children from birth to age 5, to the Miami Valley was presented, Kettering Health jumped on board.
“Kettering Health’s mission is to improve the quality of life through healthcare and education,” says Michelle Beebe, MPH, BSN, CCE, manager of Childbirth Education and Perinatal Outreach at Kettering Health. “Helping literacy helps education, which is shown to improve health outcomes. We absolutely wanted to help bring the Imagination Library program to our local communities.”
Book Literacy at a local level
Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library program in 1995 in Sevier County, Tennessee. Dolly’s father never learned to read or write, which motivated her to give every child in her hometown access to books at no cost to families. Children enrolled in the Imagination Library program receive a free book mailed to their house each month, from birth to age 5.
In 2000, an effort was started to expand the program throughout the country. Despite the national, and eventually global reach of Imagination Library, by 2013 the program was still not available in the Miami Valley. When Kettering Health was approached with the opportunity to help get the program up and running, they didn’t hesitate.
Kettering Health’s Soin Medical Center donated funding to help start the Imagination Library program for families in Greene County. Staff took matters one step further by helping families enroll their newborns in Imagination Library after delivery. As of January 2022, almost 14,000 children in Greene County have been enrolled in the Imagination Library program.
Families who deliver babies at all of Kettering Health’s maternity centers receive a packet of resources, including information on Imagination Library, to take home.
Health benefits of early literacy
“Books are tools and reading with your child will not only improve family bonds but also your child’s future,” says Michelle.
In the third trimester, a baby’s hearing is fully developed and research has shown that reading to your baby in the womb can help your baby learn language patterns, recognize words, and promote bonding between you and the baby2.
The first eight years of a child’s life are a crucial time for development and can set the foundation for their future learning, health, and success in life3. One of the best ways to start your child off on the right foot is to read with them every day.
“Reading not only exposes children to new words, but to new perspectives and ideas,” says Michelle. Reading daily with your child can strengthen their communication skills, stimulate brain growth, promote deeper independent learning, and also improve emotional intelligence and empathy4.
Enrolling in Imagination Library
A child does not have to be born at a Kettering Health maternity center to be part of the Imagination Library. Any child, under the age of 5, can be enrolled in the program and receive one free book a month until their fifth birthday. Find out if Imagination Library is offered in your county and enroll your child by visiting here.