(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Councilmembers Charles Allen, David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie, DC Public Library (DCPL) Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan, and community leaders launched the District’s Books From Birth program at Children’s National Health System. The new early literacy initiative will provide a free book each month by mail to children under age five in the District whose families sign up for the program. The goal is to prepare District youth to start school and encourage more parents to read with their children.
“A pathway to the middle class starts with a good education – and it is never too early to start,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “Parents that use books and who sing, talk and read with infants play a crucial role in giving their children a strong education foundation. I encourage parents and caregivers to sign their children up for the Books From Birth program and jumpstart the development process for their children.”
Councilmember Charles Allen introduced legislation for Books from Birth in 2015. The bill was incorporated into the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Support Act of 2015.
“I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the official launch of Books From Birth. Just over a year ago, I introduced the bill to create this program, and today marks an important step forward for early childhood literacy in the District,” said Councilmember Charles Allen. “Our support for Books From Birth shows we are serious about confronting the District’s literacy and achievement gaps at their starting point, well before those gaps show up in the classroom.”
Books from Birth is based on research showing that parents/caregivers engaging with a baby through conversations, gestures and positive interactions helps a baby’s brain develop. Eighty-six percent and 98 percent of the words used by a child by the age of three come from their parents. When activities like singing, talking and reading do not happen, researchers estimate that a baby misses hearing roughly 30 million total words and has a vocabulary that is two to three times smaller than children who had early literacy interactions by age four. If left unaddressed, this word gap can lead to disparities in school readiness and long-term success with education.
DCPL will reach families through partnerships with organizations like Children's National Health System, the Dollywood Foundation, Unity Health Care, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Educare and the United Planning Organization. In addition, the DC Department of Health has updated the “Mother’s Worksheet” to give new mothers an opportunity to opt-in to the program.
Parents who sign their children up for Books from Birth will also receive tips on singing, talking, and reading while doing everyday activities like doing laundry, changing diapers and reading at bedtime. In addition, parents can sign-up to receive short instructional videos in English or Spanish sent to their email or mobile device that will help them turn everyday activities into learning opportunities for their child. Books will be provided by Imagination Library, a nonprofit child literacy program started by country singer Dolly Parton. Videos will be provided by Ready Rosie, an online parent engagement tool.