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Building a baby's library: One candidate's great idea

April 09, 2004

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lloyd Jackson says he wants to help West Virginia's schoolchildren with an idea borrowed from country singer Dolly Parton.Parton may not be the person most people associate with education, but her plan to promote reading should get serious consideration whether or not Jackson is elected.

The idea, launched by Parton in Tennesee in 1995, is called "Imagination Library." Each child born in the state receives one book per month until age 5, so that they begin school with a personal library of 60 books.

It sounds terribly expensive, but isn't. Tennessee spends just $2 million a year and Jackson said it could be done in West Virginai for just $2.7 million.

If there's no room in the state budget for such an amount, this is a cause we'd bet many people and businesses would be willing to support. It might even encourage some parents to purchase the books on their own, since many children's books cost less than a large pizza.

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As part of his plan, Jackson said he would also have schools expand the class time devoted to reading instruction from 60 to 75 minutes to 90 to 120 minutes per day.

He would also create a West Virginia Reading Commission, led by teachers, that would put together a statewide program to improve the teaching of reading in the schools.

Does it make any sense to read to a child who can't talk?

Yes, according to the information gathered for Maryland Public Television's "Bridges to Reading" program, even infants benefit from being read to, although they need books that contain more pictures than text.

By the time a child is 3, experts say, his or brain will be 90 percent of the size of an adult's. As shown by recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, how children are stimulated early in life affects how their brains develop.

That same AMA research points to a glut of early TV viewing as the culprit in the development of problems such as attention-deficit disoder. Reading, on the other hand, has all sorts of positive benefits, including making a child a better reader late on, experts say.

Lloyd Jackon may or may not be the best candidate for governor. It's one thing to have ideas, and quite another to put them into place. In this case, however, it's one heck of a good idea.

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