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While most parents would never let their child go hungry, 50% are leaving out a vital nutrient for their young child's mind....books.

What happens during a child's first three years can have a lifelong impact on mental development. Brains of children that received little stimulation have been found to be 20% smaller than those exposed to more stimuli, says Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization devoted to early child development. Why? Most connections between neurons in the brain, or synapses, are made in the first three years. Increasing the activity of a child's brain boosts the number of synapses formed. In one study, children who received lots of early stimulation had brains 15% more active than others.

Storytelling boosts synapse development and strengthens a child's vocabulary. From birth, children can distinguish among hundreds of sounds. Different sounds create a cluster of neurons in the auditory cortex that will later create a response to each sound. Storytelling increases the frequency and number of sounds heard, and therefore the number of neuron clusters created.

Getting parents to read to their newborns is just one of the objectives of Born to Read, a program that unites libraries with health care providers to help parents raise children with healthy minds and bodies. The program was created by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).




In 1995, the ALSC with funding from the Prudential Foundation issued $30,000 grants to five flagship Born to Read libraries across the United States. The ALSC and libraries had three main goals: 1) to develop models of how library-health care provider partnerships can work together to break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy; 2) to help parents improve reading skills and impress upon them the importance of reading to their children and 3) to promote greater public awareness of health and parenting resources available in public libraries.

Linda Bostrom, manager of Born to Read, said that the program targets at-risk parents who may need support or guidance raising their children. "It's for any family that wouldn't have traditional access to the necessary tools to raise a child," she said. "They're not your typical library goers."

The Born to Read program helps sponsor storytimes at libraries to give parents a chance to read to their newborns. One "Time with Father" program in Provo,Utah promotes fathers reading to their children.

Born to Read focuses on literacy and child rearing, creating a perfect match between librarians and health care providers, Bostrom said. The program generates awareness of health and parenting resources available at libraries and teaches parents how to use those resources. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh works with the Allegheny County Health Department and the Magee-Women's Hospital to give presentations on nutrition, child development and immunizations. In Henderson, NC, the H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library sponsored parenting classes and storytimes at three housing projects and the Health Department.

The programs have been a huge success. "With just five sites, we were able to help over 35,000 people,"Bostrom said. Leaflets and posters are distributed at hospitals and medical centers to attract families to participate.

The goal of the five original demonstration sites was to produce a manual and video that would help other libraries create their own Born to Read programs. Even before the manual and video were available, Born to Read inspired Houston's Public Library to start a program in 1996. Each week, a children's librarian visits health clinics and reads to children. Bostrom said the video and 200-page manual are now available from Born to Read. She hopes that other libraries will want to start their own programs. "Our goal is to make every library a Born to Read library," she said.

For more information on Born to Read or to start a Born to Read program at your own library, contact:

Born to Read Project
50 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611
lbostrom@ala.org
To Order a video and manual, call:
1-800-441-TAPE




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