Reaching Out to Parents in High-Risk Neighborhoods

Children must have access to books if they are to read. But books in themselves are simply not enough. Children also need to have a caring adult to read to them and talk to them, preferably every day. In many high-risk families, parents may have poor reading skills themselves and not much experience with books. They may not know how to choose good literature or engage their children in reading. And they may not know how important daily reading is from infancy through early school years.

One unique effort located in Pennsylvania tries to get children and parents passionate about reading together. In addition to distributing free high-quality books to thousands of low-income families, the program also sponsors Read-Aloud Parent Clubs. These groups meet weekly at libraries, schools, and public housing projects to help give parents helpful techniques and confidence for reading with their children. Over the course of 6 to 14 sessions, parents receive:

  • a tour of the local public library and a library card,

  • exposure to different types of books available for library borrowing,

  • a free book at each session,

  • tips for successful parent-child reading sessions,

  • encouragement to read daily to children,

  • an opportunity for club members to ask questions and discuss problems, and

  • suggestions for other home literacy activities.

The parent book clubs were originally developed for Head Start parents, but since have expanded into public housing communities and for parents of Title I kindergartners. The program also includes a bookmobile—a library on wheels, which visits low-income communities and day care centers, encouraging children and adults to borrow books on a regular basis.

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