A new program aimed at promoting early childhood literacy is giving free books to newborns, starting in January.
Through its "Born to Read" program, St. Louis County Library plans to give the new parents of as many as 8,000 babies born at four participating hospitals in 2015 a gift bag, including: a board book, a bath toy, a milestone marker describing where children should be developmentally, instructions on how to get a library card, and a calendar of literacy activities.
According to Library Director Kristen Sorth, the goal of the program is to encourage new parents to start regularly reading to their kids as early as possible. Sorth said hearing their parents read helps babies develop language skills that will help them succeed later on in school.
"For some people they may feel kind of silly reading to an infant, it's an itty bitty baby, but it's important to understand how great that it is in terms of a child's development to start that early," she said.
The participating hospitals are St. Anthony's Medical Center, SSM DePaul Health Center, St. Clare Health Center and Missouri Baptist Medical Center. The program is supported by the St. Louis County Library Foundation.
Sorth said the program is part of the library's broader strategic plan to make sure kids have the skills they need before they start kindergarten and to foster a lifelong love of reading. St. Louis County Library also offers other literacy tools for young children, including a kindergarten readiness program and the Family Literacy Involvement Program. The latter offers families kits including a book and related activity materials that can be checked out from the library.
"It does make a difference in terms of them developing the skills that they need to start kindergarten," Sorth said. "A lot of children are behind when they start kindergarten and many of those kids never catch up."
Additionally, Sorth said by giving babies books, the library hopes to encourage a lifelong love of books. That's also the goal behind inviting Born to Read parents to have their child's first birthday at the library - where they will get another free book.