Adair County Library Joins 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Program

Children in Kirksville are enjoying even more story time than usual — the Adair County Library has joined the nationwide 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program.

The library joined as a way to promote the idea of helping children under five to develop their literacy skills earlier. There are 60 Kirksville families already signed up and participating.

Jami Livingston, Director of the Adair County Library, said parents sign up their children at the library, receive a sheet of paper that includes 100 book icons on it, and then read a story to their child and record it by coloring in one of the book icons. Livingston said that once a family completes their sheet and brings it into the library, they can pick up a prize for their child and move on to their next sheet. She said the library tracks all the progress sheets through Children’s Librarian Cory Landon.

Livingston said children can also come to story time at the library and add those stories to their book progress chart. It’s also fine for children to read the same books over and over again. If the books are read repeatedly, Livingston said, then all a parent needs to do is just count them each time toward the book progress sheet.

Inspiration to bring the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program to the library, Livingston said, came from her own personal research on the program. It seemed like an easy, free program to implement, Livingston said, and she and Landon decided the program would begin at the library in January.

If the library and program can convey anything to people, Livingston said, then she wants it to be a message of inclusivity and care toward the Kirksville community.

“I think the Adair County Library is here for everybody and I would encourage people that have never been here to come in and talk to us about the program and see what they think,” Livingston said.

Landon, who has served as the Children’s Librarian since June 2016, said having a program like 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten is important because there are a lot of children who come to school who are not fully prepared. Giving children as much introduction as possible to literature at an early age, Landon said, helps build a variety of fundamental skills necessary for them to succeed once they enter school. Landon said he views the library as an accountability partner with the program, because it’s the library’s job to support parents and encourage them and their children to keep reading as much as they can.

Landon said reading to young children has a tremendously beneficial effect on them.

“It’s something that I want [people] to all realize, just how powerful reading a book to a child is,” Landon said. “And it’s not just that they’re gaining things cognitively, it’s also that role model of having somebody reading. When you see people reading on a regular basis, it makes it seem like more of an ‘Oh! I should be doing this!’ If you see nobody read, if you have no books in your house, that’s a travesty.”

Landon said one of his favorite parts of the program so far,, has been hearing feedback from parents about how their relationship with their children has changed since starting the program, particularly with using the book progress sheet. He said one family, who began apprehensively with some worry about adding incentives, came back after a few weeks thrilled with the program.

“It brought a new excitement to it,” Landon said. “It restored just the great value and the joy in reading with the kids again. And the kids see that. They see that mom and dad love reading. And so it makes the kids value literacy as well, and that just goes so far to building a lifelong reader.”

Although he’s not surprised by the amount of families who have signed up, Landon said that he wishes the program could continue to grow. However, he said the current number of families in the program is a nice start. Landon said one recruitment strategy for the program has been the story time segments for 2-5 year olds the library hosts every week. When the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program started, Landon said the families attending story time were the first people to talk to about getting involved.

Alternatively, Landon said reaching the farther community of Kirksville has been more of a challenge. Landon said despite the library’s efforts, there are still people who aren’t aware of the program.

Landon said the program has been very positively received.

“I’ve heard from several families how they’ve suddenly re-sparked the interest and the joy in the reading,” Landon said. “They’d been doing it but it had become kind of rote thing, [like] ‘We’re doing it because that’s just what they do.’ The joy’s back.”

Being involved in the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, Landon said, has taught him that there are many families who love books, and it’s exciting to see kids interested in books. Landon said his biggest takeaway personally is to do a better job of reaching out to the community and spreading the word. Landon said seeing the shining faces on the kids is always the best part of the job.

Jerry Jones, a parent of a child in the program, said his family joined the program because they wanted to support the library’s programs.

The benefits of having children be more engaged in literature, Jones said, is it’s developmentally great to have them reading books early on and that sitting and reading together is a nice bond to have with your children.

Jones said he and his family the program has been a great experience so far.

“We come to the library once a week and grab a bunch of books, and it is interesting keeping track of the how many books we’re reading,” Jones said. “And our daughter, Hazel, and our older kids, who are not in the program, like keeping track for her, too, and filling in the little book chart to keep track.”

Although the program is a fun and enjoyable experience for his daughter, Jones said he thinks it’s just a good program to get more people going to the library and for younger kids and their families to make a habit of reading together.

Jones said he and his family want the library and the Kirksville community to thrive, so hopefully the program can continue and grow.

“There’s definitely no pressure, like, you can’t fail the program or anything,” Jones said. “You can move at your own pace, and it’s really just about trying to intentionally make that time to sit and read with your kids. Make it a part of your routine and I think that it’s definitely very rewarding in making sure that you do spend that time with your kids and getting them to enjoy books.”