Steamboat Pilot & Today — March 1, 2020 — Two year into its existence, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is showing unbelievably strong results, according to Lynn Zinn.
Zinn is member of Women United, an affiliate of Routt County United Way and the group that runs the program, which provides children with a new book every month from birth to five years old.
Fifty-one percent of the survey’s respondents said they were reading with their children either more or much more than before receiving the Imagination Library books. The rest reported about the same amount of reading.
That is a big goal of the program, Zinn said — to encourage parents to spend more time reading to their kids.
Zinn is also an early childhood education and literacy specialist with a background in survey design. She formulated the questions for the recent survey, which was sent via email to every family participating in the program.
Her intent was to generate meaningful responses about the local impact of the international book-giving program.
“Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly (Parton) started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county,” according to the program’s website. “Today, her program spans four countries and mails over 1 million free books each month to children around the world.”
The survey garnered specific numbers, like 95% of parents reporting the Imagination Library had an impact on their child or children’s interest in reading.
And it solicited optional comments, like “My daughter loves the books so much that she thinks Dolly Parton is a close personal friend who sends her things.”
Looking forward, Zinn said, the goal is to continue fundraising, so that they can reach even more kids in the county, of which there are approximately 1,350 aged zero to five. The survey also reached some families whose children have aged out of the program, and the results showed lasting impacts beyond the five years.
While Women United and United Way raise $125 per kid for the full five years of books, the program is free to families in Routt County.
And every month, each child in the family receives a package in the mail with their name on it.
Of the more than 500 parents and guardians (with about 800 participating children) who were sent the survey, about 35% responded. Zinn said a typical response rate is about 20%.
Parents reported their kids — even the little bitties — overwhelming were very excited when their books arrive. And most of them were very excited.
Among parents, 99% reported being excited themselves when the books arrived.
One parent commented, “The Imagination Library deepened the bond I have with my son as (we) reread his favorites over and over. Some of his all time favorite books came from the Imagination Library.”
Using her expertise in early childhood development, Zinn framed some questions around reading the same book repeatedly. While she admits that she read Berenstain Bears books to her own daughter so many times it drove her crazy, she also knows how important it is for kids to hear that same book over and over.
“It’s a very important developmental step,” she said.
Parents reported reading favorite books over and over a lot — nearly 100% for every age group.
Kids also asked to be read to often, parents reported, especially as they got older.
Zinn also designed questions around pre-literacy reading comprehension; from being able to identify pictures, to eventually being able to tell the story themselves using the pictures.
Of the program’s graduates, 60% of parents reported the Imagination Library had a big effect on their child’s schools readiness. Forty percent reported it having some effect.
With results showing 100% of parents saying the program has an impact on school readiness, Zinn said she had to go over the responses again.
“It’s almost an impossible result it’s so good,” she said.
She acknowledged the people who chose to respond likely felt positively about the program, but the numbers still give reason for celebration.
The numbers are important for fundraising, Zinn explained. They currently have enough money to fund the current participants for another two and half years. In addition to funding more years, they also want to reach more kids, especially outside of Steamboat Springs where their numbers aren’t as high.
One initiative allows donors — for $250 — to fund the books as a gift for a kid not living in Routt County. Through that donation, they pay both for a child of their choosing and a child in Routt County.
For more information or to sign up your child, go to routtcountyunitedway.org/imaginationlibrary.