DC is an expensive city, making it a hard place for young families to thrive. Just last week MarketWatch reported that Washington is the most expensive city for a family of four in the entire United States. The city’s free Pre-K-3 is a boon for local families and while a new program from the DC Public Library won’t have the same impact as free child care, it’s a pretty great perk for families making it work in the District.
Launching in February, you can sign up now to receive one free children’s book a month from the DC Public Library. The Books from Birth program is open to all children 4 years and 11 months old or younger, and the offer is per child in your household.
The Books from Birth program is designed to encourage reading among, and to, DC’s youngest residents. Research shows that children that live in households where they are read to on a daily basis show up to Kindergarten with more advanced vocabularies. As described in an article by Tina Rosenberg, a landmark 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that, “Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words.” It’s not entirely clear why the word gap exists, but research has shown that access to books in the home affects the likelihood that parents will read to their children. The Books from Birth program will allow all children in-home access to high-quality, age-appropriate books.
DC’s book donation program may draw inspiration from a related policy initiative in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence Talks was the 2014 winner of Bloomberg Philanthropies $5 million dollar Mayors Challenge, and a recent article summarized, “After decades of failed educational reforms, few policymakers are naïve enough to believe that a single social intervention could fully transform disadvantaged children’s lives. The growing economic inequality in America is too entrenched, too structural. But that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing.”
Over time we’ll see what impact the program has on school readiness and student achievement. In the meantime: hey parents — free books for your kids! Don’t forget to sign up here.