We know that approximately 61 percent of low-income families do not have a single piece of reading material suitable for a child. In Georgia, a third of our children come to school unprepared to learn and 75 percent of students who are poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school. Further, Georgia scored 46th on SAT's in 2006, one in four adults in Georgia operates at a low literacy level, and low literate workers cost Georgia businesses $7 billion a year.
Teaching children to read is often seen as the sole responsibility of our nation's schools. For the most part, children's success or failure in reading is seen as a function of the quality of their elementary education. Most kindergarten teachers would strongly disagree with these assumptions. Their experience reveals marked differences among children in their ability to learn, their familiarity with books and language, and their confidence level. In short, long before a child has experienced formalized education, there are already children far ahead of the curve and even more lagging far behind. In a 1991 (Boyer) study, kindergarten teachers reported that 35% of the children arrive at school unprepared to learn. Playing "catch up" is a very difficult proposition both for the child and the teacher.
Educators have identified preschool reading and parent involvement as among the most important steps toward a child’s success in school. A growing body of research now supports the experience of teachers. It suggests that from birth on the learning environment has a tremendous impact on the short and long-term reading capability of the child. According to Karoly et al (1998), children develop much of their capacity to learn in the first three years of life, when their brains grow to 90% of their eventual adult weight. Start Early, Finish Strong, a Department of Education publication; emphasizes the importance of a child’s interaction with his/her environment rather than intelligence as a key factor in determining the ease with which a child will learn to read. The publication cites a National Research Council report that states, “Just as a child develops language skills long before being able to speak, the child also develops literacy skills long before being able to read.”
Just what are these literacy skills? Letter names and shapes, associating sounds with letters, familiarity with books, associating reading with love and fun are all key areas of development. Dr. Perri Klass, Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, states, “With confidence, I tell parents to read to their children, secure in the knowledge that it will help their language development, help them be ready to read when the time comes, and help parents and children spend loving moments together.”
Leading economists say that money put toward early-childhood programs offers the greatest returns and may be the best form of economic development out there. “Early-childhood interventions are the most cost-effective way to develop human capital” according to Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman. And Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return by Art Rolnick & Rob Grunewald states “Any proposed economic development list should have early childhood development at the top.”
The key is to start at birth. To immerse a child in literacy environment can be a stronger predictor of literacy and academic achievement than family income. The more words a child hears, the larger the child’s vocabulary, and the larger the child’s vocabulary, the more likely the child will be a proficient reader.
However, in order to read with a child, books must be in the home. In a 1991 study by Needlman, parents given books by their doctor were four times more likely to read and share books with their children. This rate increased to eight times more likely with lower income parents.
It is also instructive to examine the consequences of failing to build an adequate foundation for reading. The most stunning revelation is just how difficult it is to become a proficient reader if a child is trapped by initial difficulty. In a 1988 study, Juel found “…that 88% of children who have difficulty reading at the end of first grade display similar difficulties at the end of fourth grade.” Researchers at Yale discovered a similar trend. In their 1997 study, “…75% of students who are poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school.”
The Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy cannot address all the issues of early literacy; however, we can eliminate one of the reasons why parents do not read to their child – the availability of quality books in the home. Books delivered not just once, but 60 times in the child’s critical years of development.
Robin Ferst formed the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy in 1999 to help children achieve success in education and in life. Originating in Morgan County, Georgia the goal was established to send age appropriate books to all children under five in Georgia.
The Foundation strives to improve early childhood learning for every child regardless of income, race, religion, or gender as any child who cannot read is at-risk.
Children registered for the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy program receive a book at his/her home every month via U.S. mail until their fifth birthday. If they are registered as soon as they are born, each child will receive up to 60 free books for his/her own personal library!
An expert committee composed of individuals from education, child develop- ment, academia and early childhood literacy has carefully selected the books chosen for this home library.
Read to Me, is the first book each child receives and Kindergarten, Will I have a Friend? is the final “graduation” book that is received when the child turns 5.
As the program focus grew to include parent assistance and additional literacy support items, the Foundation grew into its new name: Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy. We continue to send age appropriate books in conjunction with enhancements from our second literacy support initiative, Leap Into Books.
Now, in addition to the personal library, each child enrolled in the Ferst Foundation program also receives a “Ferst” library card and tips for the parents on how to read aloud with their child. The newest addition to the Program will include a monthly communication piece, which will provide a book guide, child activity page, and opportunities for local community literacy announcements and sponsor acknowledgement.
In order to directly measure the impact of the book distribution program a study by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in November 2003, reported “85% of the total sample (of families receiving books) reported reading with their child almost every day or more”. So now we know that the families not only have quality books in their home but they are also reading them with their children nearly every day.
Specific information regarding the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy (FFCL) Program is illustrated through the research information from our first participating county. This county has participated in the program for the longest period of time and as a result has been able quantify a dramatic increase in the percentage of students arriving at their school ready for kindergarten. The percentage of children passing the Morgan County Primary kindergarten readiness test (currently scoring 7 or higher on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) was at 67% for the general population and 45% for the children enrolled in the FFCL Program in the Fall of 2001. After 3 years of the FFCL Program operating in Morgan County, the percentage of children passing the kindergarten readiness test jumped to 82% of the general population and 80% of the FFCL population in the fall of 2003. In 2011, the first Ferst graduates (8th graders) scored 99.6% (met or exceeding goals) on the reading portion of the CRCT. Imagine the Possibilities if every student in Georgia had access to the Ferst Foundation program and in a few years we were able to see dramatic results like this in EVERY county in Georgia!
The Program is free to participating families and it is made possible through the partnership with local Community Action Teams (CATs). Funding for the $36.00/child/year Program cost is organized through private donations, corporate sponsorships and grants. We welcome any interested parties to contact us so that we may work together to bring the Ferst Foundation Program to every Georgia child 0-5 years old. As partners, we can help prepare every Georgia child for success in school and in life.