We've been getting books from Imagination Library for a couple years have really enjoyed the service. It's easy to get into the routine of reading the same books over and over to kids. This at least gives us some variety and is obviously much cheaper than something like Amazon's Prime Book Box.
I do feel guilty at times because we aren't in financial need of the books. However, I do plan on donating back to Imagination Library, which will probably more than cover the cost of the books they've sent us over the years. Maybe that's part of their reasoning for not making the program dependent on financial need.
Don't feel guilty. The other thing you can do is donate those books forward (assuming they've not completely fallen apart), to a community library, or a local school. Children's books, especially for younger kids, can take a real battering, so new supply is often welcome.
My son's primary school has a really extensive collection of books you can borrow, all of them donated by past parents. They have them on displays outside the appropriate classrooms and you just take whichever ones you want and bring them back when you are done with them. No need to check them out.
One of the reasons projects like this don't always means-test is because it puts people off asking. A lot of people see it as shameful, it can be invasive and more time-consumeing, having to say "I'm poor, here's the paperwork and supporting documents to prove it, please give me help". In addition, the savings from limiting it are often partially or totally outweighed by the additional cost of all that beauracracy.
In the UK there is an additional payment that goes to all pensioners in winter to help with the cost of heating. It's automatic because there was a real likelihood that making it means tested would simply mean that many who could benefit would never apply and the admin would cost more than was saved. I think it was the same argument for making school meals free for all kids for the first few years.
It sounds like a really great program. Unfortunately, when I tried to sign up it wasn't available in my area. It wasn't really clear why until I read this article which says, "available in communities where a local partner has teamed up with the Imagination Library." I wished they had at least offered some sort of suggestion or mailing list for those who they can't service. I could likely afford to buy a book each month, but don't have the time to spend researching which ones are worth buying.
Similarly, my pediatrician hands out an age-appropriate book at each visit.
Our local (rural) community foundation signed up, in case there is one near you under which you'd like to light a spark.
My kids got those books for years and it was fun and nice to come home to such a generous and quality gift. But the library, library book sales, and other local sources like garage sales or credit-swapping consignment shops are also enough alone around here to pile the books quite high. In addition, screen time is absolutely wicked these days compared to when I was a kid. Hoopla is amazing, as are the various sandbox games in which you can mine, farm, build, design, and just explore. I grew up glued to the computer so I take a pretty "whatev" approach as long as I know the screen-activity characteristics are broadly "good" or better yet "fitting for my kid's psychological needs".
Yeah, the library is a great resource. Another parent and I were talking the other week about handing-down books, but young kids are absolutely brutal with books. There are books I've already bought 2-3 times. I do look forward to donating the books that have survived to my local library or to another family when he outgrows them.
The thing I really like about this program, that I have a difficult time doing in my own, is a regular age-appropriate book. It's hard to remind yourself every few weeks to try something new. When you think of books you liked as a kid, like "there's a monster at the end of this book," isn't always at the right level for your child and I always err on what he liked yesterday not really knowing what he'll grow into next.
> 100M books? Who knew Dolly Parton was so well read?
Who knew somebody didn't read the article?
"Parton visited the Library of Congress on Tuesday to celebrate a major milestone in the Imagination Library's history: delivery of its 100 millionth book. Not bad for a program Parton founded more than two decades ago as a small, local effort to help kids in her native Sevier County, Tennessee."
"Every month, the nonprofit program mails a free book to more than a million children — from infants to preschoolers."
Not very useful comment, just wanted to write this... anything that can be done for the betterment of children's lives, anywhere on this planet, it a winning point for humanity. I didn't even know that Dolly Parton had started something like that, I never appreciated her music (byt hey, I bet not many people appreciate the early Sepultura albums either), but she now has my utmost respect.
> Any child from birth to 5 — before they head off to kindergarten — is eligible.
Her original goal was to improve literacy rates. Targeting children under 5 seems like a strange way to approach this. Reading to your kids is great, and there is some evidence it might help, but if you want kids to read then getting great books into hands of 5-10 year olds seem like it would help more.
Despite coming from a very well-read family, and having been read to at an early age, I resisted reading at a young age. I just wasn't interested in it, and preferred doing other things. It wasn't until 4th grade where I found a copy of 'A Book Dragon' somewhere and fell in love with it. Despite probably being above my reading level at the time, I struggled through it and then went on to devour just about every fantasy book I could get my hands on, becoming an avid general reader in the process. The right book can really make all the difference.
My father (accidentally) taught me to read by reading for me when I was little. At the age of 5 I one day asked him to please turn the page, even though he had just started the page. I had already read it and wanted to continue on the next page. That's the day he stopped reading for me, I continued by myself after that. I learned to read by watching what he was reading.
As to 'there is some evidence it might help' (with reading), there's the other, very important part: Being read to turns on your inner movie, your ability to imagine. I still remember the children's hour on Saturday afternoon radio when I was little. The stories unfolded in my brain, and it's true that radio (and books) come with much better pictures than TV, but you need to practice from an early age in order to develop the best of that ability. Thus: Read to children. I applaud Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program. I had no idea she was doing that.
Beautiful story that a parallels my own. Dad worked from home, so read to me as I sat on his knee. By the time was at preschool could already read quite a lot. A gift that has stayed with me for life as someone who starts to reads most anything within reach.
>Her original goal was to improve literacy rates. Targeting children under 5 seems like a strange way to approach this.
Why? Don't children have to learn to read before you can measure literacy at all? Learning to read versus learning to love to read is definitely as you stated a matter of motivation, but these days kids are learning to read younger and younger due to screen time.
I too come from a well read family but in contrast to your example of not really getting motivated until 4th grade I learned to love to read before school started. By the time second grade rolled around my teacher would ask me to read to the class and then go stand in the doorway chit chatting with the teacher from the next classroom over. And like you it was a gateway into a lifelong love of reading.
Reading requires opportunity and motive. Dolly Parton is supplying the opportunity and since when kids start to read is all over the map, creating it early for those who will pick it up is not wrong. From my perspective and to paraphrase you: denying children under [the age of] 5 seems like a strange way to approach this.
Reading to children early on seems to be a strong predictor of later positive outcomes including literacy. Of course, these kind of things seem more likely to be common-cause (to me at least) - kids whose parents regularly read aloud to them probably also are encouraged to learn in other ways.
If you teach your kid to read early you shift your kid's performance curve earlier than everyone else's kids so of course it corresponds to "better outcomes."
There's a huge amount of positive feedback loops involved in education so if you can give your kid an start that gives them a tiny leg up on their peers it's likely that they will carry that lead all the way through to adulthood.
It's the same arms race we see in athletics. Kids that start school a year later (and are bigger) have better athletics outcomes.
Few people really are naturally exceptional at anything. However, if you've managed to shift your kid's performance curve so they look "gifted" compared to the other kids then your kid gets the best the education system has to offer and this investment of resources compounds in a way that gives them better opportunities which at scale correlates a lot with better outcomes.
Basically parents that have the time/resources/will to game the system in favor of their kids have kids that out-compete the kids of parents who don't. Water is wet. More news at 11.
Not negating what you wrote, but I think the parent comment was referring more to reading "to" children being a good thing in an of itself. I believe there are a number of theorised factors: encouraging an interest in books before the child is actually able to read them (and so being an encouragement to learn), giving them exposure to stories and ideas and pumping their imagination, and providing a focus for quality parent/child time especially as part of a daily routine.
My 4y/o is learning to read at the moment, and the difference between the early reader phonics books he gets from school and the stuff I read to him at home at the moment is night and day in terms of story and interest. There's a real market for some really good authors to produce better phonics books.
Counterpoint: you came from a well read family and were read to from an early age. Based on the implications of your story, you're literate and are an avid reader. You draw the conclusion that it was "the right book" but someone else could conclude that the exposure to books early helped get you to a state of literacy.
Also, literacy and "avid reader" are miles apart as goals. It seems you were already literate.
My mom read to us from Dr. Seuss and such until we could read ourselves which was well before school age. We hit a patch of low income and I started reading what my Dad read which was hard SciFi and war novels. My brother honed his reading by reading the AD&D Player's Handbook when he was pre-K. I'm pretty sure if we had the money for more age appropriate books I would have still read because I experienced the joy of it from being read to. Early positive exposure will set children on the right path.