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Pre-literacy program encourages parent, child bonding
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Michelle Coxford, childrens librarian at the Turlock Library, presents Richie and Arely Alsaro with reading medals for successfully completing the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Program. - photo by Photo Contributed

For any five-year-old, reading 1,000 books before they begin school may seem like a daunting task. Thanks to a program provided by the Stanislaus County library system, the seemingly-impossible feat has become a reality for children in the area, allowing them to enhance their literacy skills and develop lifelong reading habits.

The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Program was kick started by Turlock children’s librarian Michelle Coxford three years ago after she read about the program online in a blog post.

“I saw the program and thought, ‘We should be doing this here,” said Coxford.

A test-run of the program was held at the Ceres Library, and after a successful year, 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten expanded to all of the branches within the county’s library system.

The program is directed at any child who has not yet started kindergarten, and the goal is that they read 1,000 books before their first day of school. Children can read the books themselves, or their parents can read books aloud to them. Though the program does end for each child when they reach kindergarten, there is no minimum age requirement. Coxford said that the libraries encourage parents to sign their babies up for the program.

“The program is aimed at getting parents to read daily with their kids and to set that habit,” said Coxford. “It’s all about hearing the language, hearing the words and learning the vocab.”

Reading to children beginning at a young age allows them to expand their vocabulary, said Coxford, preventing the “word gap” that often plagues those who are not read to as a child.

“They’re hearing stories that have vocabulary words in them that we don’t use on a regular basis, and they’re learning those words,” she said.

Children who participate in the program are rewarded for every 100 books they finish, and those who complete all 1,000 books are presented with a reading medal and a free book. Since the program’s start in Turlock two years ago, 376 children have signed up for the program and 20 have completed it.

Two of those children, Richie and Arely Alsaro, began the program when they were just two and four years old. Now, a year later, three-year-old Richie and five-year-old Arely have successfully read 1,000 books, along with some help from their mother, Joana Alsaro.

“To be able to say you reached 1,000 books is such a big number when you’re such a little kid,” said Alsaro. “It was pretty exciting for them.”

To reach the 1,000 book milestone, Joana read four books to Arely and Richie before bed every night, and the books were often titles that the family picked out at the Turlock Library weekly. The stay-at-home mom and her children tended to pick books that matched a theme for the week she said, such as oceans or planets. Some of Arely and Richie’s favorite stories were the “Pete the Cat” series and “Fancy Nancy” series.

“I wasn’t read to as a child, so I actually love the fact that we’ve started reading,” said Alsaro.  “I hope this routine continues and I hope that they carry it on to their own children.”

The Alsaros will be honored this Friday at the Stanislaus Library Foundation’s Party at the Library, which will give the family the opportunity to explain to the Foundation how their funding for the program has impacted their lives.

“It sets the tone of why the program is so important,” said Coxford. “You’re not just reading to them and expanding their vocabulary. You’re also creating that bonding time with your children.”

To sign up for the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Program, visit the Turlock Library, located at 550 Minaret Ave., and register at the Reference Desk or contact the library at 209-664-8100.