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What could a free library do for every Ohioan under age 5?

young boy reading book; "what could a free library do for every child under 5?" in white bold text in blue circle
Beginning at birth, reading and book ownership are extremely important and are predictors of school success and beyond.  

So, imagine the difference it could make if every Ohio child under the age of five were given a head start on reading with a free personal library of up to 60 books by the time they start school. 

That’s no longer a distant daydream for Ohioans. In 2019, Governor Mike DeWine announced he was giving every child a head start on reading through the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library (OGIL) with the goal to improve literacy among Ohio’s youngest citizens, regardless of their families’ income. The OGIL is made possible through partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and local partners. 

Early Reading for Future Success 
What is the best way to ensure children are armed with the knowledge they need to succeed? Reading aloud to them and giving them access to books starting at birth.

Babies are born able to process language and become increasingly aware of language use before starting to use it themselves. Reading, as well as talking and singing, helps babies build their understanding of language. Reading to babies and young children help them build vocabulary, understand letter-sound connections, and learn how language works (e.g., for storytelling, sharing ideas, asking questions).

Children introduced early to reading tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children not exposed to language and books at a young age (American Academy of Pediatrics). Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read. Children with these skills have an advantage that carries with them throughout their school years and beyond.  

Value of Book Ownership
Having books in the home is twice as important as parents’ educational level. Whether rich or poor, parents who have books in the home will likely increase the level of education their children will attain according to a 20-year study. Children with 25 or more books in their homes complete an average of two additional years of schooling compared to their peers without books in their homes.1 

Parton’s Imagination Library has been available to every child in Tennessee since 1995. A 2014 study found that Tennessee’s children who participated scored significantly higher on kindergarten literacy assessments, a trend that continued into third grade. Further, families reported reading together more as a family than those who did not receive books from the Imagination Library. 

Why Now is the Best Time to Take Part in OGIL
With more family time than ever before, now is the perfect opportunity to enroll in OGIL and begin a routine of reading together as a family. 

Reading has the power to heal and help get people through hard times like we are facing today, especially young children who lack an understanding of our complex world. When parents and children read consistently together, it leads to discussion about the seriousness of the world in a way they can understand through the relationship developed with the book. This will result in less fear, doubt, and insecurities during difficult situations.2 It is important to continue reading together even if a child can read on their own, because reading beyond their level can stretch their understanding and motivation to improve their skills.3

Many nonprofits and publishers are releasing new children’s books about the coronavirus for free of charge, with the aim of giving children age-appropriate ways to learn about the pandemic. 

The book My Hero Is You by Helen Patuck is one that emphasizes the importance of keeping themselves, friends, and family protected from the virus.4 Reading about the relatable struggles of others can be validating and help them feel less alone. It can also help children become more empathetic and connect to others.5

The pandemic has made accessibility to books even harder for children in poor communities. The OGIL can help ease the concerns of widening the education gap, as the end of the crisis is uncertain.

After you enroll in OGIL, your child will receive their first book in 6-8 weeks, so to supplement that time we suggest turning to the internet, social media, and educational organizations for reading resources. Here are a few digital reading campaigns that children can participate in:
#ReadTheWorld Campaign
Save with Stories
Raising a Reader Aspen to Parachute 

For more information on digital reading campaigns, visit World Economic Forum and Raising a Reader.

How to Enroll
Parents can enroll children younger than five if they live in a county that has launched the OGIL. The OGIL is working with affiliates to open enrollment to every Ohio child in Ohio’s 88 counties by 2021. The program is available in communities where OGIL has teamed with local partners such as nonprofits, state agencies, or public libraries

Children enrolled from birth have potential to receive a total of 60 books by the time they start kindergarten. 

Registered children receive a book each month addressed specifically to them and mailed directly to their home at no cost to the family no matter the income level of the family. 

We’re also delighted to share, that if the participating child or their caretaker is blind or visually impaired, they can qualify for accessible Imagination Library books in print/braille and audio formats. The OGIL is able to offer accessible books thanks to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library’s partnership with American Printing House with the Blind. Click here to learn more about how receive accessible Imagination Library books in print/braille and audio formats.

Parents can enroll their child or children by simply filling out the form and answering a few questions here.

If you have additional questions about Ohio’s Imagination Library, visit the FAQs on the OGIL website. 

Additional Reading Resources for Teachers and Parents
Reading advice for parents  – Advice and tips for reading with children of all ages, disabilities, and native languages.
Tips for making reading fun – Understand how to make reading time educational and entertaining for young children
5 easy ways to help improve early literacy skills– Learn how to incorporate talking, singing, reading, writing, and singing into daily activities to improve early literacy skills
Learning outside of the classroom – Explore resources for parents and caregivers that are adjusting to teaching at home
Literacy in the first three years - Learn how caregivers can help infants and toddlers grow in language and literacy

Evans, M.D.R., Kelley, J., Sikora, J. & Treiman, D. J. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171-197. 

Laura Lipsett is a School Improvement Facilitator with the Center for Achievement and Leadership. She offers support for program reviews and revisions and creation of systems for continuous improvement as well as professional development on a variety of topics to include literacy and learning, rigor, teacher clarity and systems thinking in the classroom, and more.