Parents of a new baby will coddle and coo over their little bundle of joy. They will sometimes dress up their baby to show him or her off to the world. They will even play “this little piggy” with their newborn.
All this is a normal routine for new parents. That routine should also include reading to the baby from the time it’s born.
United Way community engagement director Patty Graham said it’s important that parents instill good reading habits in their child at birth because statistics show that 52 percent of third-graders today are not reading at grade level here.
“So, by fourth grade, they’re going to make up their mind whether they’re going to continue their education,” she said. “And if they can’t read, their self-esteem falls into play. That’s why it’s so important to start reading early.”
To help all Wayne County parents teach their baby good reading habits, United Way, Partnership for Children, Wayne County Public Library and Goldsboro Pediatrics have partnered to start Welcome Baby Bags, better known as the Bunny Lovey Project.
The purpose of the project is to get the message out to read early and read often, said Delores Gray with United Way Read Wayne. She said new parents will receive a bag with various items in it in both English and Spanish, including a board book for baby with a short story on one side and tips for parents on the other side. There are also pamphlets with information on programs that the public library offers. And there’s even a Bunny Lovey, a rabbit made of soft materials that baby can snuggle with.
The Bunny Loveys are handmade. Members of Town and Country ECA Club and Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist Church have been busy sewing them.
New parents will receive the welcome bag and all its contents during their first visit to Goldsboro Pediatrics. They will also receive a registration card to fill out and take to the library to get their baby’s first library card.
“At the time they’re there, we’ll encourage the new parents to fill out the application and give it to the library,” said Nola Claiborne, Goldsboro Pediatrics’ newborn and parent educator. “We decided it would be really good to get the parents involved in that action instead of us handing them something that doesn’t require a follow-up. We are happy about encouraging parents to sit with their baby in their lap with a book.”
That’s where the My First Library Card comes into play.
“In the past, children could get a library card when they turned 5 years old,” said Donna Phillips with the Wayne County Public Library. “We always celebrated a child going into kindergarten and being old enough to get a library card.
“But we started thinking that we’re pushing this initiative in this community that we want families reading to their children at birth, so why do they have to wait to get a library card when they’re 5. Why shouldn’t their families be able to get them a library card when they’re born.”
Phillips said the Welcome Baby Bag project will piggyback on parents’ enthusiasm for their new baby.
“We want to instill in them how critically important it is to go ahead and begin to read to the baby right from the moment they’re born,” she said. “It’s in those beginning moments of life where children, through interactive experiences, begin to learn about language. And the Bunny Loveys that are in the welcome bag are a way to foster bonding between a parent and a child and create nurturing experiences around book sharing.”
Parents of any child born in Wayne County or Wayne County parents who adopt a child will receive a Welcome Baby Bag.
To know if the project is working, staff at the library will collect data to show if parents not only got their newborn a library card, but if they are also going to the library’s reading programs. And library staff will collect data to show if parents are checking books out at the library.
“That will show that not only did they hear this information from their pediatrician about the value of reading to their children and how their children’s language is developing and what role they as parents are playing in their child’s development of language, but how they’re doing something with that information,” Phillips said. “The real result that we will see in our community is that children will be arriving in kindergarten with those readiness skills that they need to be able to take off and be prepared for school success.”
Phillips said the project will eventually benefit everyone in the community because early education can affect a person’s workforce preparedness.
“The project is definitely needed here,” Gray said. “I think our statistics show that not only countywide, but nationally, our children are not prepared for kindergarten. When they’re young, they’re learning to read up to third grade. At fourth grade, they’re reading to learn. It starts at birth to be prepared for school.”
Anyone who wants to help make the Bunny Loveys or contribute to the project should call 919-735-1824, ext. 5248 or 919-580-7745.