Arena is programming & outreach coordinator for the Franklin County Public Library

Did you know that 80% of human brain growth occurs in the first three years of life? Or that children whose parents read them five books a day start kindergarten having heard more than a million more words than kids whose parents don’t read to them? These statistics might seem astonishing to some, perhaps sobering to others when considering the socio-economic challenges faced by many young children in our community and elsewhere. And yet they also suggest opportunity. During the critical window of time from prenatal through pre-K, there are many opportunities to positively influence children’s brain development and learning ability.

To facilitate early learning and healthy family relationships, the library offers a host of free programs for children from infancy through pre-K. Programs include toddler time and story hours at our Rocky Mount location, the Little Learning Lab for pre-readers and early readers at our Westlake location, and lots of arts and crafts designed for little ones. We’ve recently ramped up our offerings by joining Virginia’s new school readiness program, One Thousand Things Before Kindergarten.

Called 1KTB4K and funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Library of Virginia, the program encourages parents and pre-K children to do 1,000 things before kindergarten. One thousand things might sound like a lot but, in addition to reading, the things include a wide range of activities, many of which families already do or can easily incorporate into their daily lives. Do you color, sing, play or snuggle with your child? Help your child count, name colors and shapes, recite nursery rhymes or tell stories? Do you take your child to the grocery store, the park or to church and talk about what you see or hear? All these types of activities count. And parents don’t have be the only ones who take the lead on every daily activity. Grandparents, older siblings and other trusted and loving family members play important roles in helping young children build strong brains.

Lecia Smith Hammock, children’s librarian at the Westlake location said, “We want to help families interact with their children and see that everyday things, no matter how small, are powerful in preparing kids for school.”

To participate in 1KTB4K, which is entirely free, parents can stop by either library location to sign up any child who hasn’t started kindergarten yet. At sign-up, families will receive a book bag and log to check off every book and activity completed. Complete 100 books or activities, turn in your log and receive a brand-new, free book, then start logging another 100 activities. Move through the program at your own pace and reach the finish line when your child has returned ten logs or begins kindergarten.

If you’re at a loss for activities to do with your child, don’t despair. Many literacy and child development organizations offer free activity calendars for pre- and early readers (and ones that are geared to more advanced readers). Our children’s librarians can point you to these resources. You can also stop by the library for activity calendars by Demco. Many of the ideas are just plain fun and some are, well, no-brainers. For example, on National Handwriting Day (Jan. 23, 2020), have your child practice writing his or her name, marking each letter with a different color, or teach your child how to sign his or her name in cursive. Certainly, don’t downplay the value of fun.

Developmental psychologist Richard Rende said, “All that silly free play, and building blocks and Play-doh? Research shows that this is the stuff of the most advanced flexing of the young innovative brain.”

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