Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrectly stated the number of children who would be eligible for the program.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (Ward 6) plans to introduce a bill that would send a book each month to the home of every child under age 5 in the District.
The early literacy initiative aims to address an achievement gap that begins at birth.
“We have households in the District that have hundreds of books and households where the only book in the house may be the phone book,” he said.
By the time students are in third grade, less than half of public school students in the District are on grade level in reading. Allen’s proposal aims to address the problem early on, by tackling a large word gap that’s been documented in research. By the time they enter school, children from advantaged backgrounds often know thousands more words than children from poor families.
“Books are direct building blocks for learning, but children must be exposed to them to use them,” Allen said.
He plans to announce his “Books from Birth” initiative at a news conference at the Southwest Neighborhood Library Friday morning.
The program would be run by the D.C. Public Library system. A selection committee would identify a diverse range of developmentally appropriate books. The packages would also include information about programs or services available at the library for parents and their children.
Allen, who was sworn in this month on the D.C. Council, said he got the idea because he has watched his 2-year-old daughter develop a strong interest in books. “She flips pages and asks to play with books, and I recognized that this doesn’t happen for a lot of kids,” he said.
While visiting relatives in Tennessee, his young niece was excited to receive a book in the mail through a similar program that has shown positive results in preparing students for school, he said.
In the Washington region, some schools have mailed books home to students in the summer as a strategy for minimizing the so-called summer slide in academics and learning.
All 41,000 children under age 5 in the District would be eligible. Allen estimates the cost would be about $30 per child annually. He suggested rolling out the program in phases, starting with infants and toddlers.