Joshua Clark is happy as he sits down to read a book to his son, Mason. But Clark remembers not always being happy about reading.
"I remember my mom almost forcing me to read books doing those summer reports right before you got back to school, and it was tough."
Reading became like work to him. He decided that when he had his own child, he would make sure reading was an enjoyable experience.
"When you can present things in a joyous way and not that it be a task, you're more willing to do it, and I wanted to provide that for my son."
Today, Clark and his son live in Washington, D.C. The young father has been able to ready many great stories to 3-year-old Mason, thanks to a local program called Books from Birth.
A book in every home
Through Books from Birth, Clark and others who take part receive one high-quality book each month in the mail. The program is open to D.C. residents with a child under the age of five.
Books from Birth began three years ago. Clark joined the program before Mason was even born. Clark knew the program would help him feel closer to his son as well as help his son learn.
"I knew I could use this tool to not only bond with my son, but also give him skills that he would need in everyday daily life."
Learning new words
The program sends each child age-appropriate books. So, early ones may teach simple shapes and sounds. The books become more complex as the child grows.
Clark says monthly books are helping Mason learn many new words.
Clark says, "He will repeat a word and understand it and later on repeat it and use it in a way that was used with him."
And that is the goal of the program, said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. She recently spoke at a news conference celebrating the program’s third anniversary.
"We know from all of the research that children who are read to, sung to as well, at home, have a vocabulary that is vastly larger than children unfortunately who come to school without that type of preparation.”
Bowser added that having a larger vocabulary means children may read sooner and learn more once they begin school.
Improving reading rates
D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen introduced the law that established the project.
He said, "When I first got elected to the Council, I had a 2-year-old daughter -- she's 6 now -- but I saw that in her bedroom she had dozens and dozens if not a hundred books. That's not the reality for every home in D.C. And I wanted to do something quickly about early childhood education and early literacy.”
More than just reading skills
Mason's mother, Margaret Parker, says she likes how Books from Birth can help her teach her son another language, too.
"Teaching him another language is something I've always had an interest in. And getting those English-Spanish books have been a great follow-up to songs that we sing, or words that I teach him, or things that he picks up at school."
Parker says the books are carefully chosen to teach other important skills, as well. For example, one of the books Mason received was all about bugs, or insects.
"We were outside, kind of exploring, and one of his friends, I guess, wanted to step on one of the bugs and he said, ' Oh no, don't squish bugs' -- a part of one of the books that we read with him -- so I thought that was pretty cool to see him make that connection between the two."
When the library comes to you
The D.C. Books from Birth program is a local partner of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. The singer-songwriter started the program in 1995 in her home state of Tennessee in honor of her father, who could not read or write.
The organization mails a book to a child’s home once a month, from birth until the child turns 5. The organization has sent out more than 115 million books to children in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Britain and the United States.
The goal in America’s capital is to have 100 percent participation – especially among poorer families, says D.C. Public Library chief Richard Reyes-Gavilan.
He said it is difficult for busy, working families to visit a library every week or month. But, with Books from Birth, “the library comes to them.”
I’m Jill Robbins.
Julia Taboh reported on this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
task – n. a job for someone to do
bond – v. to form a close relationship with someone — often + with
exposure – n. the fact or condition of being affected by something or experiencing something
squish v. to press (something) into a flatter shape
vast – adj. very great in size, amount, or extent
unfortunately – adv. used to say that something bad or unlucky has happened
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