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Preschoolers shoot for 1,000 books: Spokane Public Library launches challenge

Nobody expects a preschooler to be able to count to 1,000, but a new program offered by Spokane Public Library is helping parents and caregivers track a goal of reading 1,000 books to their children before kindergarten.

It’s a big number, but SPL Librarian Cathy Bakken says it’s easily attainable.

The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, a national nonprofit, breaks it down this way. If you read just one book a night, you’ll read 365 books in a year. In two years, the number will grow to 730, and by the third year, you’ll surpass the goal at 1,095 books.

It’s no secret that reading to children is vital to kindergarten readiness.

“Studies show the more words children hear between birth and 5 is directly related to their success in school,” said Bakken. “When it comes to language experience, reading to your child is even more important than talking to them, though both are vital. Picture books use more difficult and unusual words than we typically use in every day conversation.”

Reading allows children to experience language and learn unfamiliar words. That expansion of vocabulary sets them up for success when they enter school.

Yet, Bakken said one-quarter of children in the U.S. are never read to, and another quarter are only read to once or twice a week.

“If a child is read to once or twice a week between birth and 5, they’ll hear 63,000 words,” she said.

Five books a day equal over 1 million words.

In contrast, she said if a child is never read to they’ll hear just 4,500 to 4,800 words.

“If there aren’t books in the house, kids don’t know how to use them,” Bakken said.

That data translates into alarming results.

Last month, The Spokesman-Review reported recent findings from the state superintendent’s office showed that only 24.3% of youngsters in Spokane Public Schools were “kindergarten ready,” meaning most of them did not meet state standards for cognition, language, literacy, math and social-emotional maturity.

Of 34 elementary schools in the district, seven had kindergarten readiness rates of less than 10% last year, according to last year’s assessment by the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, or waKIDS.

SPL hopes the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, coupled with its other early learners programs will help improve those numbers.

The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program offers tracking tools, apps and practical support for families. Information is provided at storytimes and is available at library branches and on its website. Celebrations and free books are planned for each child who reaches the goal.

“We want to install a lifelong love of reading,” Bakken said.

And if your child can’t go to sleep without another reading of “Pete the Cat,” each reading counts toward the 1,000 book total.

“Picture books are a great way to teach,” said Bakken.

More importantly, while adults are tracking numbers and thinking about kindergarten readiness, kids are simply having fun.

Like the children attending preschool storytime at the Indian Trail Library, Friday morning.

Their tiny voices rang out.

“The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain,” sang the kids, while enthusiastically waving bear finger puppets.

As Bakken read stories featuring bears and hibernation, the kids scooted ever closer to get a better look at the colorful pictures.

“I see a bluebird,” a little boy whispered to his grandmother.

Another boy, jumped up shouting, “I see a lion! Just like Lion King!”

Shannon Wenman frequently brings her children Addelyn, 3, and Aaron, 19 months, to storytime, but they also read at home.

“We probably read 10 or more books a day,” said Wenman. “We read when they first wake up and after nap time.”

When asked her favorite book, Addelyn shyly whispered, “Ariel.”

The Little Mermaid is big at the Wenman house.

And after Friday’s storytime the children added three more books to their 1,000 book goal.

Bakken wants even more families to take advantage of the kindergarten readiness programs and resources offered by Spokane Public Library.

“I hope we can make a difference in the city,” she said.

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