Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dolly's Doing Her Part

Photo courtesy of thegaywitch.wordpress.com           

I always knew that I liked Dolly Parton. I mean, she is beautiful and kind hearted. She can sing like few others, and I have always loved her charming Southern accent when she calls people, "Honey."

What I didn't know about Dolly impressed me even more. Ever heard of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library? 

I hadn't either. It is a foundation that Dolly started in 1996 in her hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. Every month, this foundation sends every child in Sevierville from birth until his or her 5th birthday a new book. These are not just any books either. These are age-appropriate, hard cover books chosen by a panel of child education experts. And the best part is that children of all socioeconomic backgrounds can receive these books because the whole program is completely free of charge!

Taking this foundation a step further in 2004, Tennessee's governor Phil Bredesen established the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation® (GBBF). This ensures that the same program in Sevierville that Dolly Parton established would be available to ALL Tennessee children from birth to age five. 

See? She is great!!!

As a Communication Sciences and Disorders student, this news is like music to my ears. Because a large focus for my field is developing children's language, we are very concerned with literacy. And as one could imagine, children who have the advantage of an emphasis on literacy in their home environments struggle much less with language when they become school age. 

According to the 2003 census, 19.6 percent of children under the age of 6 live below the poverty level. According to several recent studies, children who fall into the category of impoverished have had a significantly lower number of books read to them than children in middle and upper class families. This is partly due to the availability of books to children in these situation. The ratio of books to children in middle-income neighborhoods is approximately 13 books to 1 child, while the ratio in low-income neighborhoods is 1 book to 300 children.*

This lack of reading and literacy development contributes to a lower number of words that impoverished children have been exposed to. The average number of words that a child from a low-income family has heard is one half to one third of the amount that a child from a middle or upper class has heard. This leads to a lack of language development, as well as likely reading delays.

So, props to Dolly, and if you happen to be in a charitable mood this holiday season, consider giving to a foundation or organization such as Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and give some child the chance to read!

*Neuman, Susan B. and David K. Dickinson, ed. Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2. New York, NY: 2006, p. 31.