Books pave way to kindergarten readiness


Sharing books is an important step to building literacy skills and getting a child ready for kindergarten. An investigation examines the impact of combining 2 popular young child literacy programs to promote readiness.

Being ready to start kindergarten helps put a child on track for good health outcomes. Sharing books promotes speech and language development as well as preliteracy skills, essential ingredients in preparing a child for school. Programs like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read have been effective ways to get books into the hands of young children. An investigation examined whether a program that combined elements of both these programs had an effect on kindergarten readiness assessment scores.1

The investigators recruited from all Reach Out and Read clinics in Cincinnati, Ohio and enrolled patients aged <5 years. The Reach Out and Read program carried on at all clinics, with all children aged 5 years and younger being given an age-appropriate book along with information on shared reading at well-visits. Children who lived in a zip code linked to the Cincinnati Public School system were offered the chance to enroll in the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails a book to a child every month until his or her 5th birthday. In the intervention group, clinicians confirmed enrollment in the Imagination Library, asked about address changes, and encouraged parents and children to read the Imagination Library books. A literacy subtest was used with children entering kindergarten in the fall of 2016, 2017, and 2018.

There were 797 kindergarten Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read participants who were matched to Ohio kindergarten readiness assessment scores for 2016, 2017, and 2018 school years. The proportion of students who were assessed as “on-track” with kindergarten readiness assessment literacy subsets increased significantly across cohorts (2016, 42.9% [95% confidence interval (CI): 34.9%–50.9%] vs 2017, 50.9% [95% CI: 44.9%–56.9%] vs 2018, 58.3% [95% CI: 53.3%–63.3%], P = .004). The hybrid program participants were compared to a random sample of 1580 peers. Investigators found that being on-track with literacy did not differ between the groups (2016 [P = .262], 2017 [P = .653], 2018 [P = .656]), even after restricting the analysis to children who were economically disadvantaged (2016 [P = .191], 2017 [P = .721], 2018 [P = .191]).

The investigators concluded that a program that both provides more books in the home and shares anticipatory guidance at clinic visits could be a way to improve a child’s readiness for kindergarten. They also believe that the program showed that pediatric health care providers have an important role in promoting school readiness.


1. Szumlas G, Petronio P, Mitchell M, Johnson A, Henry T, DeWitt T. A combined reach out and read and imagination library program on kindergarten readiness. Pediatrics. May 24, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-027581

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