Dolly Parton (and Local Pediatricians) Put Reading First

Early literacy interventions are crucial when it comes to making sure children are equipped with the experiences needed to tackle school, careers, and life challenges down the road.

A variety of programs work to make sure that children and their families are getting access to books and resources and do a great job of engaging them when it is important.

Recent studies have even shown the impact when programs work together to accomplish these goals. Researchers combined Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) and Reach Out and Read (ROR) to examine the effectiveness this combination has on kindergarten readiness assessment scores (KRA). They implemented this at urban primary care sites the ROR serves.

What they discovered was that combining literary guidance at pediatric clinic visits while also introducing more books into the home was beneficial to improving kindergarten readiness. Researchers found that health care providers end up playing an important role when it comes to helping patients prepare for school.

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The KRA is an assessment given to all students in the state at the beginning of their kindergarten year. It was designed to measure how “”ready” a student was for grade school and looked at four different topics: language and literacy, social foundations, mathematics, and physical well-being and motor development. This assessment is used every year because educators and administrators have found that it is a good predictor of achievement in students later on in their studies. Research shows that over half of children who are determined to be “on-track” end up passing their third grade reading exams.

Reach Out and Read is a nonprofit organization that encourages daily reading and language engagement with young children. It hopes to make reading a regular part of family routines so that children all across the country get a head start before beginning school. The organization works with their network of pediatric teams to provide education for families during health checkups. This means they are able to serve millions of kids and teach families about the importance of early literacy and reading aloud.

The healthcare providers provide direct patient care and look to the support of Reach Out and Read for strategies families can use. Reach Out and Read shows them how to engage children, hold books, interact with texts and images, etc. This helps families create a deeper understanding of the organization’s mission.

The Imagination Library was founded by Dolly Parton in 1995 and has since given books to children all over the world from birth to just before grade school. The program provides age appropriate books to its participants and mails them out to families each month at no cost to the family. Over a million books are sent out each month and parents can easily sign up their children through their local public library. For more insight on the work of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, check out our EveryLibrary Medium blog post on her efforts and the program.

The most recent issue of Pediatrics Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics highlighted a study done on a combined Reach Out and Read and Imagination Library Program. The study developed a hybrid program that looked at patients under the age of five living within the school district over a period of a little over three years. This led to over 10,000 program participants enrolled in the ROR/DPIL program, of which, 767 kindergarten-aged children’s KRA scores were able to be matched.

The combined program combined repeated early literacy guidance to parents at health checkups with parents while also ensuring that these families had a steady stream of books coming in the house. The focus of this program was on combining and sustaining the useful resources and aspects that each program had created. At the conclusion, over 320,000 books were distributed and clinicians were able to provide literacy guidance in over 90,000 visits.

The study was specifically able to follow three cohorts of kindergarten students and examine the differences in the performance of each cohort on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. They also compared the scores of students in the program with those that did not participate in the program. What they found was that there was a significant difference between scores of the cohorts each year. The improvement between the kindergarten classes showed that enrollment in the ROR/DPIL program increased the percentage of students who were “on track” according to KRA literacy tests. Full results and analysis of the study can be found in volume 147, issue 6 of Pediatrics journal.

Implementing good reading habits into the lives of children early on becomes extremely important down the line. This is why the work programs like ROR and DPIL are doing is useful in many ways. While this is an early study into the matter, it is evident that integrating programs like this early on makes a difference.