1,000 Books Before Kindergarten

By Robin Stromgren

During the early years, it is very important for children to build skills in both numeracy and literacy. The early childhood field knows that children entering kindergarten with skills in all of the developmental areas will have greater success in school. The five domains that are assessed are:

  • Physical Health, Well-being, and Movement Skill
  • Social & Emotional Development
  • Approaches to Learning
  • Thinking Abilities and General Knowledge
  • Communication Language and Literacy

Successful kindergarten experiences lead to better self-perception and confidence as a learner. It also leads to an increase in 3rd grade reading and math scores and a higher incidence of high school graduation rates. This data makes the case for the promotion of early literacy.

The American Library Association’s web site has resources and information about early literacy: http://www.ala.org/united/products_services/booksforbabies/earlyliteracy

“Early literacy (reading and writing) does not mean early reading instruction or teaching babies to read; it is the natural development of skills through the enjoyment of books, the importance of positive interactions between babies and parents, and the critical role of literacy-rich experiences.

Literacy development begins at birth and is closely linked to a baby’s earliest experiences with books and stories. Babies learn language through social literacy experiences – parents interacting with them using books. These experiences also serve to associate books with parental affection, attention, and approval.“

The website quotes a study of 3- to 5-year-olds who had been read to at least three times per week. The study found the children were:

  • Two times more likely to recognize all letters.
  • Two times more likely to have word-sight recognition.
  • Two times more likely to understand words in context.

Every Child Ready to Read is also a fantastic resource for early literacy advocacy information: http://everychildreadytoread.org/resources/

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that 62% of parents with a high socioeconomic status read to their children every day compared to only 36% of parents with a low socioeconomic status. The 1,000 Books campaign in Bennington wanted to ensure that all families had books and experienced the joys of reading to their children. The Bennington region currently has 51.9% (2015-16) of the children under the age of six living below 200% of poverty. We organized the 1,000 Books campaign to reach all families and to support them in the joys of reading

The 1,000 Books campaign came to Bennington when Beth Wallace, a family support worker at Head Start, heard about the program from a friend in New York state. She knew that it was both important and a great program for all families. She enlisted the support of two of nearby libraries, the Bennington Free Library and the McCullough Library in North Bennington. She got support from the local rotary club to buy bags so that all children had access to quality children’s literature.

There is a national 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten organization as well. Located in Utah, it is funded by grants and is run by volunteers. The objectives of this organization are:

  • To promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers.
  • To encourage parent and child bonding through reading.

“Numerous studies estimate that as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read. Reading has been associated as an early indicator of academic success. Public formal education does not typically start until ages 5-6. Before then, parents and caregivers are the first education providers during the 0-5 early critical years. The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten challenge is a simple (read a book, any book to your child, with the goal of reading 1,000 before kindergarten) and very manageable endeavor.” (https://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org )

Bennington took the ideas from the national concept of 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten and tailored it to this region. Bennington started in the Southshire from North Bennington south to the Massachusetts. We use libraries, Head Start, and several early care and education centers as the point of access with a goal of engaging families from all socio-economic groups.

1,000 Books Before Kindergarten may sound like an almost impossible task. When it is broken down, it is one story a day or 365 books for the year. It makes the goal possible in less than 3 years. Another feature of the program is that a story counts if it has been reread 1,000 times. Books read at childcare or story hour count too. And really, do any of us know a child that is content with just a single story a day?

To start, Bennington needed books. The books were donated, bought through direct service funds, and a CLiF (Children’s Literacy Foundation) grant. Our local bookstore, the Bennington Book Shop, gave us a 20% discount, which was a substantial donation for a small business. Volunteers then sorted books into bags with five books each.

Children register at the library and receive their book rewards at the library.

Families can borrow a bag of books. When the bag is returned, the family will receive another bag containing a selection of 5 different books. However, it is not just the books in the bags that count toward the milestones, it is any book that is read to the child including school and story hour. Children keep track of their reading by coloring in stars on a sheet. They do not have to stay within the lines.

The committee packed bags, developed informational brochures, registration forms, and reading logs. The partners developed a reward program giving the child an opportunity to pick a new book to take home for each 250 books read. When 1,000 books is reached, the child puts a bookplate with their name on it into the book of their choice. The book stays at the library as part of the collection.

The 1,000 Books program has recently expanded to the Martha Canfield Library in Arlington. Our intention is to expand the program to all of the Bennington County Libraries. We do know that some of the children who received their book bags through Head Start are reading, but have not been registered at their library.

Head Start has the family support workers bring book bags and engage families in reading. We need to develop a method to ensure that the children are registered with a library so that they can be acknowledged when they reach their reading milestones. One of the family support workers has signed up 24 children.

After one year, the statistics from the two libraries are:

  • Number of children reading 1,000 books: 7
  • Children Registered: 132
  • Bags circulated: 278 bags
  • Milestone books awarded 85 (only Bennington)
  • Bags lost: 5

This year we will work on guaranteeing that all of the data points we are collecting is the same.       

As part of the CLiF grant we were also able to host a community story-telling event. We used the event to promote the 1,000 Books project and to give out Help Me Grow information. The storyteller was overwhelmed when over 125 children, parents, and caregivers came to the event. Oakhill Children’s Center in Pownal sent 20 preschoolers who left with two books each, followed by lunch at Ramunto’s.

The campaign continues with the expansion to Arlington and then throughout the county. The Bennington Free Library is in the process of scheduling a storyteller event this spring. Each child who comes receives two books and the treat of a dramatic childhood tale.

The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative can be fun for the whole family. The family can enjoy reading the books, recording how many read, and deciding on incremental awards. Yet the biggest reward is the time spent in a shared activity.


Robin Stromgren
Bennington Regional Coordinator
Building Bright Futures


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