1,000 Books Before Kindergarten: Building Reading Habits From Birth

By: Krystal Keagle

When I first found out I was pregnant, one of my first thoughts was, “I can’t wait to read to this baby.”

Maya and me getting ready to read books before bedtime recently.

After all, books were one of the first loves of my life, and I was so excited for the opportunity to share them with my child.

For our baby shower, I asked our loved ones to bring a book instead of a card. It was so fun to see the wide variety of books that our friends and family chose. I was surprised when we didn’t receive a single duplicate!

Maya was born at Elkhart General Hospital in 2022. When you have a baby, hospitals often give you lots of things to take home with you. One of the things we received was a tote bag from the Elkhart Public Library featuring the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program. It had information about the program, how to sign up and even a brand new book.

Even as a voracious reader myself, I thought, “1,000 books is a LOT.” Then my husband pointed out that we had nearly 2,000 days until Maya’s first day of kindergarten. We could probably read one book at least half of those days.

Fair point.

So we went home, got used to life with a newborn and started reading. I signed up for the 1,000 Books program on the EPL website and downloaded the Beanstack app to start tracking our progress.

Maya at around 15 months old, holding two books in her chair and waiting for me to read one to her.

When Maya was an infant, I read books and short stories to her often. She was mostly looking at me, and I made sure to exaggerate my tone and face a lot to catch her attention.

For the first year, reading is more about setting a foundation for future language development. By the time a baby turns one, they have heard all the sounds to learn how to speak their native language. The more a baby is read to and talked to, the more sounds they’ve heard (especially repeated). Language is built through repetition and imitation. The more opportunities for this, the better.

We started with a lot of soft picture books that crinkled. These were great because Maya could explore the books with her hands, and it was fine when she inevitably chewed on the edges. Sometimes I would point out pictures in the books, especially in picture books. Even though she wasn’t interested in exactly what I was saying, I knew it was good for her to hear me talk. It was also a lot less boring for me than simply sitting there showing her pictures.

Reading quickly became part of our bedtime routine too. As an infant, she didn’t have any opinions or the ability to express them, I chose my favorite stories from her shelf and would rotate through them. It was a good way to calm her down and get her ready for bed.

As Maya got older, she got more interested in the pictures and reading time. She giggled all the time when we would make animal noises or switch between silly voices for different characters.

A few months after her first birthday, Maya started to request certain books. By request, I mean she would pick them up and hand them to her dad or me and then sit down and wait for us to start reading. She also got a lot more interested in pointing to certain animals or objects. Eventually, she started naming them herself.

We have a wide variety of board books and picture books, which are awesome. We also have several sound books. Maya especially loves the ones with animal sounds or songs. It makes reading a lot of fun for her, but truly sometimes she just loves pressing buttons and getting the immediate sound or song.

Maya turned 2 years old a few months ago and she loves reading. We go through phases of reading the same books every day, but I can usually sneak a new book into the rotation pretty often too. There are a few books that we’ve read so many times that she already has memorized. It’s not uncommon for Maya to find her copy of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and recite it while she turns the pages.

We read throughout the day regularly, but reading is a key part of our bedtime routine. Sometimes we’ll tell Maya to pick just one or two books, while other times we’ll try to select the books to read (with varying success). I loved the first time she asked, “One more book” before going to bed. Sure, it had the benefit of putting off bedtime for a few more minutes, but I also like to believe it’s because she loves reading as much as I did as a kid.

Maya enjoys football Sundays, but prefers to read picture books during commercial breaks.

Though we’ve been reading consistently for a long time, I wasn’t always good about tracking our reading progress. But now that we have just about three years left until the first day of kindergarten, I thought it would be a good time to commit to tracking. I started by logging every book on Maya’s bookshelf — if we haven’t read it, we will soon enough.

In my next blog post, I’ll go over a few of the different strategies for achieving 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten and which one we will be following. Until then, I’d love to hear from other local parents about their child’s reading journeys. How do you incorporate reading into a regular routine with your kiddos? Leave a comment on the Elkhart Public Library’s Facebook page.