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Creating a Home Library for Your Family on a Limited Budget

Preparing your child for school begins the day they are born. The biggest determinant of a child's success in school is a child's home life and environment. If a child is read aloud to on a regular basis and if a child has books and literacy materials in his or her home, that child's chances for educational success go up immeasurably.

Books, magazine subscriptions, encyclopedias, and dictionaries are expensive. How can you give your child a leg up in school if you can't afford to buy piles of books for a home library?

When I was expecting our first child, I was laid off of my teaching position due to school budget cuts. Our family income was reduced by half. We didn't have enough money for a crib and diapers, let alone books. But, as a teacher I knew that just as I had to prepare to feed and nurture my new baby's body, I had to be prepared to feed and nurture my new baby's mind and spirit. So, I began the process of building a home library even before my baby was born.

Kids reading photoBaby showers are a great place to start building a home library.
If a friend or family member offers to give you a baby shower, add children's books to your wish list. Ask for board books, made of sturdy, laminated, drool-proof cardboard. They have curved corners and are safe enough to put right into your baby's crib. Request a book of nursery rhymes, like My Very First Mother Goose edited by Iona Opie. And, ask for a copy of Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim's book will be an invaluable resource for you in building a home library.

As your child grows, encourage family and friends to give books as birthday and holidays gifts. On special occasions, splurge and purchase books for your children in addition to toys. Take the time to write a loving, personal message in each book. In our family we give "now and later" books. On their birthday, each child receives one book which they can enjoy now and one book they can grow into. That way there is always a book on the shelf waiting for them no matter how big they get.

Neighborhood, school, and main branch libraries often hold used book sales, as do colleges and universities. Call your local library or check the events column in your newspaper to find out book sale locations and times. At used book sales, books can often be purchased for as little as $.50. Purchase books, both fiction and non-fiction, that your children enjoy, but also purchase information and reference books, like dictionaries and histories, which they can use as they progress in school. Printed encyclopedias are quickly being replaced by electronic software, so used encyclopedias are now available at bargain prices. Much of the information, in even 10 year old encyclopedias, is still pertinent.

Instead of the tooth fairy bringing money to your child, consider having the tooth fairy leave an entertaining, fun paperback or a comic book under their pillow. Paperback books are an inexpensive way of building a home library.

Contact your local hospital and see if they have a Reach Out and Read program in your area. Working with pediatricians, Reach Out and Read, www.reachoutandread.org, provides books to children before they enter school.

Supplement purchased books with books and magazines borrowed from the library. Then, you will always have fresh choices for your children. Reading library books can also help you decide which books you should own. Choose library books which generally interest your family and try them out at home. If a child or teen is captured by a particular story or repeatedly references a book, you may want to consider purchasing that book. Before you subscribe to a magazine, borrow a few back issues of that magazine from the library to see if it suits your family's interests.

Recycle magazines with friends and family. Plan with friends and families to subscribe to different magazines, then trade magazines. Also, investigate student subscription discounts. Many magazines offer reduced rates through schools.

It is never too late to begin reading aloud to your children. It is never too late to begin creating your own home library. Having books and literacy materials readily available to your children at home is one of the best ways to insure a successful educational experience for your children.

© 2001 Mary Brigid Barrett

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