I’ve officially been a children’s librarian for almost six months now. I’m starting to settle into a groove, and there are so many things that I could be writing about – book selection, recommended book lists, story time planning, special programming…all of which I hope to get to eventually. But today I want to share one of the “special” projects that I’ve been working on with my library: 1000 Books before Kindergarten. When I started, I was given this program as one of my special projects. The good news is, I get to design the program to run however I want. While the program has been officially launched already, I get to make any changes that I want to it and run it however I want. The bad news is, I also have sole responsibility for the success (or failure) of the changes that I am making.
So, how does the program even work? It’s all about reading together with your child. Your goal is to read 1000 books together before your child starts kindergarten. The point is to increase early literacy skills – research shows that the more parents (or caregivers) and children read together, the more pre-reading skills are developed. With that foundation, a child is more likely to read independently later on, and be more successful at it. Even better, the program promotes bonding between children and adults. I remember reading stories with my parents growing up, and this program is a fun way to build those memories with future generations. The entire program is based on it being a “just right” goal – 1,000 is enough books to be challenging, but not so many that parents get discouraged or feel like there is no way they can complete the program.
Because they program is self-paced, it is also to some extent pretty hands off for me. Parents and caregivers register their children, and then they choose whether or not to complete their reading logs and stay in the program. But, I wanted my library to make more of an effort in marketing the program, to encourage children to sign up and to motivate them to keep reading. The first thing that I did was completely re-brand all of our existing literature. I updated the flyers that we had available from parents – what was once a four-page, half-size booklet became a half-sheet with the basic facts of the program and the library’s contact information. That gave me something I could easily put around the library, but also something I can email to others or easily take with me to outreach programs. As part of the process, we designed a new logo. The previous logo involved a rainbow, so we chose to leave the rainbow as part of the new design. But, we also included a little alligator as part of the design who now serves as the unofficial mascot of our 1000 Books program. He is also on certificates and other flyers that are associated with the program. Where we previously had a poster of the old logo, we replaced it with the new logo. I also moved the poster into the children’s area near the picture books so that it was more visible to parents and children visiting the library.
To complete the program, parents must first register their children. Counting registrations is our primary measure for recording success in the program currently. Previously, we had an ongoing list at the youth services desk that include the child’s name, parent’s name, and relevant contact information. I wondered if our lack of registrations was due in part to parents not wanting to leave their personal information readily available on a public desk, especially one right by a public access phone that gets a lot of use. So, I replaced the registration list with individual registration cards. Parents can fill out the information and hand the card directly to library staff in exchange for a registration packet. I still keep a master participants database with all of the information, but it is no longer accessible to the public.
The packets were put together in part to replace the previous brochure, and in part to make the presentation of information more professional. I started by purchasing colored two-pocket folders to keep the information. On the outside of each, I put a flyer for our weekly story times, featuring the same little alligator that appears on the 1000 Books logo. Inside, I put one of my business cards, so that parents and caregivers can contact me (or the library) with any questions. The left side of the folder includes a welcome letter outlining how to participate in the program, suggestions for caregivers, and information about the 1000 Books app for iPhone and iPad (I only wish it was also available for Android). It also includes early literacy tips for our three main age groups, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. On the right side of the folder, I included a copy of our recommended books to read before kindergarten, their first color in book log, and a complete set (all 1000 books) of write-in title logs.
Since our families were already used to the color in book logs, I kept those as the staple of the program. The child colors a circle for each book read, and after 100 books, the log is complete. They then bring the log back to the library, where they get a special sticker to put on their log and we provide the log for the next 100 books. In order to track more than just registrations in the program, I have asked library staff to keep a list of who returns a book log so that I can track their dates throughout the program. However, I also wanted a visual way to track progress in the program. Keeping with our rainbow theme, I created a giant (2 foot tall by 5 foot long) rainbow. For each color tier (and also the clouds and the sun), I added a label for the book level (100 books, 200 books, etc.). Each time a child completes a log, he or she gets to add a star to their level on the mural. I also designed a giant bookshelf (5 foot long by two feet wide) as our reading wall of fame. There are a few books on the shelves, but as a child completes the program, he or she will be able to write his or her name onto a book shape and add it to the shelf.
We hosted a special story time event to kick off the program in January, but attendance was fairly small. Weather may have had an impact on the attendance, but it’s hard to say for certain. However, in January we had a record number of sign ups – 13 – for the program. So far February has not had nearly as many sign ups, and none of our new participants have yet brought back a book log. The greatest challenges I foresee for the program are continuing interest and motivating children to keep reading and adding their stars to the wall. It seems like once parents register for the program, they often fall off and don’t complete it. In the future, I would love to apply for a grant to sponsor prizes for different levels (currently we only offer a prize at the end of the program).
If your library is hosting a 1000 Books program, what ideas have you had that worked? How are you motivating parents to participate in the program, and how are you tracking your participation?