There is no way it can be stressed enough: the benefits of having books in the home are crucial to future reading success. Think about your children’s toys. If there are toys in the house where children have access, they are going to play with them. The same holds true with books. The easier it is for children to access books, the more likely they are to read and interact with them. And the more they get used to them being around the home, the more they will ask for them.
Building your own home library can be intimidating. Books can be expensive; you cannot always be sure of what your children will like, and there is the big question – how do I afford to get all of these books? This is especially important since many studies show that low-income families benefit the most from home libraries. Such libraries give children easier access to books.
Many parents of low-income families work multiple jobs and odd hours. This makes it difficult for them to get their children to libraries or other places that may have free access to books. School libraries help, but only if students go there frequently. Having a robust library in the home means that there is access to books all of the time. All your child needs to do is grab the book he or she likes, find a comfortable spot and start reading!
What are the best strategies for building a home library? Here are a few:
Create a space. If you are going to fill your home with books, you are going to need space to put them. Most houses have at least one corner where a bookshelf and a chair will fit. Ideally, this is in a quiet area where the child can focus on the book. A spare closet can also be used as a nook if there is little room in the home, but you have extra closet space.
Be thrifty. Books can be expensive, but they do not have to be. There are many ways to fill a home with books and not break your budget. The public library is still a good place to start; it will periodically sell off its books to make new room in its collection. The library’s books may be older, but they are still ready to be read! There are retail stores, like Half-Price Books, that sell children’s books for low prices. You can look for deals there as well. Many thrift stores have sections for used books as well.
Start a book swap. Your children’s tastes are going to change over time. That means some of the books they loved just a few months ago could end up on the shelf collecting dust. Having a book swap amongst friends and neighbors is a great way to get rid of some older books and keep the home library fresh. New materials to read will keep your children going to the shelves over and over!
Let them guide you. Allowing children to select their own books is a major way of ensuring they will want to read. Shelves of books you choose for them because they are the “right” books to read are not going to have the same draw. Let them fill their shelves with the things they want to read. This will give you a better idea of what books and topics they want to read. You can suggest a few titles you would like them to read based on their own selections.
Keep it organized! Work with your children to establish a way of keeping the books organized. It can be by title, subject, author, or even book color! This will keep them engaged with the collection even when they are not reading. Giving them their system means that they know where the books they want are, when they want them.
A house with books in it has a long-term impact on building lifelong learners. They gain grade levels over time, improve their literacy, and are shown that books are not just for the classroom or homework. But compiling a library of books is not something that can be done overnight. With patience and a keen eye for a good deal, you can have a home library your child will be able to gravitate to when looking for a good book to read. And you will be helping to build the love of reading in a student.
Written by Kelli Marie Cedo, an English/Language Arts Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Lead for Hampton City Schools in Hampton, VA. Previously, she was principal of Forrest Elementary School in Hampton. Cedo has also served as Title I coordinator, division contact for school improvement, literacy coach, academic coordinator and family engagement liaison in Virginia Beach, VA.
It was back in 2011, when I was Title I Coordinator at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, that I first understood just how serious the summer reading gap is—and first realized that a solution to this problem is within the grasp of our schools and our communities.
Researchers have long demonstrated that a lack of access to books over the summer months is academically devastating for lower-income students. The reading level of these students typically regresses by between 1 and 3 months over that period, while that of their high- and middle-income peers—even at the same school—stays constant or improves.
This outcome is not surprising, as the average low-income home contains between zero and three books, while a high-income home typically has 40 to 60 books. Higher-income children are also much more likely to participate in summer learning programs and visit public libraries while school is out. And, as research by the U.S. Department of Education has made clear, children will engage in more independent reading when they have greater access to books.
Our hope was that by providing texts for the home and working together with families to build a culture of reading, we would achieve real impact in closing the summer reading gap. To see if we had been successful, we undertook statistical analysis of K-5 students’ Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) across all 13 of our Title I schools in the fall of 2013.
The results were better than we’d dared to hope. In all, 73 percent of students did not backslide in the reading level over the summer, and 39 percent had actually improved their reading levels while out of school. Over the previous summer, before our program had built momentum in earnest, around 70 percent of K-5 students had regressed in their reading levels.
To complement this quantitative data, we also surveyed parents, teachers, and principals on their experience of the program. The feedback we gathered was a rich source of learning–and encouragement. For example, one parent reported, “Having this home library changed the way our family interacts with reading.”
Another said “Our children are so happy when they get a new book for their library. Each child keeps their library neat and organized and they do indeed use it to choose books and read. It is their space and their books. From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate having the home library helping us further our children’s education. It is something that we could not have done without the school’s program.”
Even after the success of our 2013 summer program, we were anxious about whether we’d be able to keep up the momentum and achieve impact across a much larger group of students and families. But when they ran the analysis of the expanded program in the fall of 2014, the results were hugely encouraging. A total of 70 percent of students had not regressed in their reading levels–and 35 percent had improved in their reading assessment. Our community had really sustained the program. Again, this was a major improvement on previous years.
We gathered feedback once again, and were thrilled with the positive response from both parents and educators. One first grade teacher said:
“The summer reading program was great. I worked at quite a few of the sessions and it was wonderful to see the children excited about the books and activities; many of our students do not go to the public library and parents often have difficulty picking out books at their child’s reading level. We had many of the children who attended the sessions regularly and it helped keep them from losing their momentum over the summer. The librarians who came from the public library were great at engaging the children.”
One of our Title I principals emphasized, “Children take pride in things that belong to them. The summer reading program builds on that pride by placing books into the hands of children who take pride in reading to find out what is inside.” He reported that more than 30 families participated in his school’s program, attending weekly events at the school library throughout the summer which were supported by the local public library. “Although it seemed to be common sense that it would benefit the children participating,” he said, “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the actual data, as measured by the DRA, also demonstrated the success of reducing the ‘summer slide.’”
The number one lesson is simple: Summer matters. The second lesson is a tougher one for decision-makers to accept: Mitigating the summer reading gap takes resources. Funds must be found for an ongoing supply of texts, community outreach, and summer programming–in a context where funding is finite.
All of us who care about literacy must go out and argue for resource investment with passion and confidence, pointing out that this investment creates proven returns for students in the short term, and increases economic prosperity for the country in the long term.
Like developing anything important, building better students requires providing the right environment. This is an easier task when the children are in school. A school is filled with teachers, staff, and materials that serve the purpose of encouraging students to learn. Outside of the classroom, that encouragement is not always present. Those materials are not always available when they are at home. They do not need desks, whiteboards, or even computers to spend time learning at home. All they need are home libraries.
Having a library at home encourages students to spend time reading, and learning, outside of the classroom. Richard Allington, author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, states that a handful of self-selected books could have a dramatic impact on a child’s learning over time.
In a multi-year study, he discovered that just adding 12 self-selected books to a home every summer can have the same learning impact that summer school offers. When books are convenient, it is more likely those books will be used by the students and parents. It creates a home environment that shows that reading is encouraged, especially when there are books within easy reach at all times. Helping parents build home libraries have other benefits as well:
Continuous access to books – It can be difficult for parents, especially those in low-income families, to take their children to a local library over the summer. By developing home libraries, students have easy access to books all summer long.
Topics of their choosing – Everyone is more likely to read books about topics that pique their interest. Teachers and parents can work together to build a home library of books that will encourage children to read not only through the summer but during the school year.
Familiarity with the material – Children enjoy things that are familiar. They love their favorite toys and clothes. That same love of the familiar can apply to books, especially a favorite character in a series. A beloved character can expose them to new vocabulary over the course of that series, elevating their understanding of the language.
Builds family literacy – Reading can be contagious. Once one member develops a passion for reading, it can spread to siblings and other people in the home. This has a multiplying effect of bringing more books into the home, creating a virtuous cycle of overall improved literacy for the family.
Improved academic performance – Research shows that, even when wealth and location are taken into account, more books in the home leads to greater academic performance. Owning 500 books can add 3.2 years of educational gains over time, according toResearch in Social Stratification and Mobility. Even the addition of one book can have an impact on educational gains.
Creating a friendly environment for students to read changes the environment for the whole family. Even in areas where there may not be a bookstore or community library available, home libraries offer a bridge to literacy. It extends a small part of the learning environment into every home.