Combination of early reading programs helps with kindergarten readiness

STATUE: Tiana Rollinson Henry, community engagement specialist at Cincinnati Children’s, shares a book with a child. view more

Credit: Cincinnati Children’s

A study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the combination of two early reading programs over a three-year period had positive effects on preschoolers attending Cincinnati Public Schools preschool.

The two early reading programs are: Reach Out and Read, where children receive a new book and guidance on reading at home during nursing visits from the newborn to age 5; and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends new books to the child’s home once a month from birth to age 5. Each of these books is well established at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and across the country.

“With this early study, we suggest that these two programs, when combined and sustained, have the potential to effectively support the literacy skills development of large populations of at-risk children, improve preschool preparation and, ultimately, achieve success in school and in life,” says Greg Szumlas, MD, of the Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s.

“I cannot emphasize enough to parents the importance of reading with your child, from birth,” Szumlas added. “Just a few minutes a day, reading aloud and interacting with your child about books can make a huge difference in helping them prepare and be ready for kindergarten.”

Cincinnati Children’s began the unique combination of the two programs in July 2015 with the participation of 23 health clinics across the city and funding from Every Child Capital. Researchers analyzed the results of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA), a standardized state test for all children who attend kindergarten in a public school, from program participants over the course of three school years — 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019.

Over the three-year period, more than 3,200 children participated in the combined program. For a sample of participants, kindergarten readiness assessment scores were analyzed and compared to the school district average. The results showed an increase of 15.4 percentage points between the 2016-2017 school year and the 2018-2019 school year for students enrolled in the program, while the school district average increased by just 3.8 percent over the same period.

“While districtwide percentages were higher than our program participants, the percentage point increase over that three-year period represents significant progress and improvement,” Szumlas said. “This early study suggests that pediatric caregivers are positioned to influence children’s literacy development trajectory long before they enter school and that literacy promotion should be considered a routine part of primary care.”

Lisha Lungelow, a child social worker from Cincinnati at the pediatric primary care clinic, enrolled her son Jordan in the Reach Out and Read/Imagination Library program in 2016 when he was 13 months old.

“When he came to me, he wasn’t really familiar with books,” Lungelow said. “Reading was a way for us to connect and bond. He loved receiving the books in the mail and seeing his name on them.”

When Jordan entered kindergarten last year, Lungelow believed he was ready and credits his exposure to books through the combination program.

“When he was in kindergarten, I went to get a book for us to read,” Lungelow said. “Jordan took it from me and he read the book. I can’t even explain how much joy it brought me. It was really amazing.”


Cincinnati Children’s and more than 20 health centers in Greater Cincinnati continue to enroll children in the Reach Out and Read and Imagination Library. In March 2020, the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, expanded to every child from birth to age 5 in Ohio through online enrollment.

For more information or to register go to: or

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