Burrillville families meet the challenge of 1,000 books before Kindergarten at Jesse Smith

Pictured is Everett Lee when he completed the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program at the Jesse Smith Library back in July 2022. Currently, Everett is 6 years old and is in 1st grade at Austin T. Levy School in Harrisville. Credit: Jesse Smith Library

BURRILLVILLE – It’s a challenge for parents and caregivers that proponents note comes with great academic rewards throughout the lives of their children.

Jesse Smith Memorial Library has challenged Burrillville families to read 1,000 books before their child starts kindergarten, joining national efforts to promote reading to newborns, infants and toddlers.

The reading challenge, started at the Harrisville library in 2020, has already been completed by 19 local children and their families.

And more will soon join the ranks of accomplished young readers. Library Director Beth Ullucci said that 16 other families are actively participating in the Jesse Smith program.

“Repeating favorite books is encouraged as kids have favorites,” Ullucci explained. “Through repetition, children find comfort in knowing what will happen next and gain important literacy skills. After reading 250, 500, and 750 books read aloud, families can visit the Children’s Department to receive a small prize and move their star on the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten wall.”

The library is one of many across the country to implement the program, furthering the mission of the national non-profit 1,000 Books Foundation to increase literacy in a child’s early years. The organization notes that studies estimate that as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read.

“Reading has been associated as an early indicator of academic success,” notes the program website.

Public formal education, however, does not typically start until children reach ages ages 5-6, leaving the task of establishing a foundation in literacy up to parents and caregivers during the 0-5 early, critical years.

The organization notes that while 1,000 books may sound like a lot, it’s actually a, “very manageable endeavor.” If parents read just one book a night, they will have read 365 books in their child’s first year. By two years, that’s 730 books and by three, 1,095.

“If you consider that most children start kindergarten at around 5 years of age, you have more time than you think,” notes the 1,000 books website, featuring the motto, “Read it and Reap.”

Reading, proponents point out, also encourages adult and child bonding.

In Burrillville, when children and families reach the goal of reading 1,000 books, the child receives a crown, a certificate, and a free book of their choice. Friends of Jesse Smith is also donating $25 gift cards for the families.

“Parents and caregivers are a child’s first teachers,” said Ullucci. “Through reading aloud, talking about the pictures on the page, listening for rhyming words, and identifying letters, caregivers are supporting their child’s early literacy development. Reading aloud to a child is one of the most important things a parent or caregiver can do to prepare their child for success in school and learning to read.”

To get started, families can visit the Children’s Department on the 2nd floor of the Jesse Smith Library at 100 Tinkham Lane to pick up a program guide and reading log. Families also have the option of visiting the library website to download a program guide at https://jmslibrary.org/childrens-dept/. Each time a caregiver shares a book with their child, they can color in or mark off a circle on their reading log. 

Libraries across Rhode Island have implemented their own programs, but the national organization notes that you do not need a library to participate. The website offers resources for parents to start their own program at home.

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