Books pave way to kindergarten readiness

Being ready to start preschool helps put a child on track for good health outcomes. Sharing books promotes speech and language development and reading skills, essential ingredients in preparing a child for school. Programs such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read have been effective ways of getting books into the hands of young children. A study examined whether a program combining elements of both programs had an effect on kindergarten readiness assessment scores

The researchers recruited from all Reach Out and Read clinics in Cincinnati, Ohio and enrolled patients <5 years of age. The Reach Out and Read program continued in all clinics, with all children aged 5 and under receiving an age-appropriate book along with information about shared reading at well visits. Children living in a zip code associated with the Cincinnati Public School system were given the opportunity to enroll in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which sends a book to a child every month until his or her 5th birthday. In the intervention group, clinicians confirmed enrollment in the Imagination Library, asked about changes of address, and encouraged parents and children to read the Imagination Library books. A literacy subtest was used on children who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2016, 2017 and 2018.

There were 797 Kindergarten Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read participants who were matched with the kindergarten readiness assessment scores in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The proportion of students assessed as “on track” with the kindergarten literacy assessment subsets, increased significantly in all cohorts (2016, 42.9% [95% confidence interval (CI): 34.9%–50.9%] vs 2017, 50.9% [95% CI: 44.9%–56.9%] versus 2018, 58.3% [95% CI: 53.3%–63.3%], P = .004). The participants in the hybrid program were compared with a random sample of 1580 peers. Researchers found that being on track with literacy did not differ between the groups (2016 [P = .262], 2017 [P = .653], 2018 [P = .656]), even after limiting the analysis to children who were economically disadvantaged (2016 [P = .191], 2017 [P = .721], 2018 [P = .191]).

The researchers concluded that a program that provides both more books in the home and anticipatory guidance at clinic visits could be one way to improve a child’s readiness for kindergarten. They also believe that the program has shown that pediatric caregivers play an important role in promoting school readiness.


1. Szumlas G, Petronio P, Mitchell M, Johnson A, Henry T, DeWitt T. A combined library program for range and reading and imagination about preschool readiness. Pediatrics. May 24, 2021. Epub before press. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-027581

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