Let these parents tell you what a free books program has done for their kids

As an associate professor at Miami University Middletown, Ginger Wickline understands the importance of early education that generates brain development, increases vocabulary and language and creates an attachment between parents and children.

As a mother, she knows the first step is reading to children.

So when the Dolly Parton Imagination Library began 10 years ago in the Middletown area, Wickline immediately signed up her children, Amelia and Ronin. She and her husband, Adam, make a concerted effort to incorporate reading to Ronin, who’s in preschool.

RELATED: For 10 years, they’ve helped make Middletown kids better readers.

They turn off the outside distractions, the TVs, the computers.

“We read every night without fail,” she said. “Both of my kids have loved books. Ronin started teaching himself to read when he was 2. We had done enough reading that he started to pick things up, picking out words.”

So right before Ronin’s bedtime, about 8, he selects a few books and reads with his parents. It lasts 20-30 minutes, and Wickline believes that investment will pay dividends.

“Part of it that I really like is to unwind,” said Wickline, associate professor of psychology at MUM. “Have some time to just sit together, cuddle and talk a little about the day and the fun things we are reading. Just having that time to connect. The books get things started and they lead into other things.”

To participate in the program, a child must be under the age of 5 and reside within the Middletown, Monroe, Edgewood, Madison or Franklin school district boundaries. A different age-appropriate, expert-selected book arrives in the child’s mailbox each month at no cost to participating families regardless of income. Parents may register using a paper form available from the Middletown Community Foundation or online at imaginationlibrary.com.

RELATED: Free book program boosts Middletown’s third-grade reading scores

The free book program has shown improvement in Middletown’s third-grade reading scores.

The group looked at four years of data and saw that for each individual year, more children who had received Imagination Library books passed the third-grade reading test than those who were not part of the program prior to kindergarten.

The test results spanned four consecutive third-grade classes. The first class, 2012, saw a nine percent difference between the two groups. The second class saw an 11 percent difference. The third class saw a six percent difference, and the fourth class saw a 14 percent difference.

Ellen Gabbard, 27, a mother of four, registered her son, now 6, for the program when he was 1. Now, she said, all four of her children — 7, 6, 3 and 2 — have received monthly books.

She is president of the Parent Teacher Association at Amanda Elementary School, and she said the program gets books in the hands of parents, some whom otherwise couldn’t afford them.

“It’s about bonding and spending time with your kids,” she said. “Giving them something to learn, something to hold onto.”

Dan and Kari Egbers of Monroe say participating in the program has accelerated the learning of their daughter, Eliot Rose, 2. They are expecting a son next month, and he will receive free books, too.

Just last week, they received a book about opposites, like high and low and hot and cold.

“It’s introducing a new concept to her,” Dan Egbers said. “It’s a pretty neat program from that standpoint.”

Eliot learned her ABCs before she was 18 months old and she has an “extensive” vocabulary, her father said.

“She is pretty ahead of the game from an educational standpoint,” he said. “That’s because we have spent a lot of time focusing on reading with her every day and she has taken an interest in reading.”

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