Early exposure to books and the development of reading skills are important means for children to gather information and interpret the world around them. In fact, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development considers reading to be “the single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive, and successful life.” Parents who read to and with their child – from birth and even before birth – are not only introducing language and strengthening their bond with the child, but also helping to ensure proper brain development and success in school in later years.
While many parents understand the value of reading, they may not have the money to invest in an extensive home library of quality children’s books. If you are on a tight budget, take heart! There are a number of community sources available for you and your child to obtain new or slightly used books for free or at a significant discount.
• Local Public Libraries
Nearly every city or town has a public library where children and adults alike can sign up for a free membership card. The card gives you and your child the ability to borrow books and other educational materials, as well as gain access to the library’s computers. So long as you observe the due dates for return of the materials, you need not spend a dime. Visit your community library or its website for information on how to register.
Most libraries also offer programming for all ages, including story times, creative play activities, and tutoring for children and youth, as well as book discussions, legal consultation, English as a Second Language classes, tax filing assistance, and financial literacy programs for adults. Many also hold an annual used book sale so they can clear out old books to make room for new releases. These used library books can be purchased for incredibly low prices, and since the sale’s proceeds benefit the library, it’s a win-win for everyone!
• Yard/Garage Sales and Thrift Shops
Your neighbors can be an excellent source of used children’s books for minimal cost if they are hosting a garage or yard sale. The timing is generally good, too, as these sales are often held during the nice-weather months, when kids are out of school and at greatest risk for summer learning loss. A collection of interesting books for summer reading might be just what is needed to preserve their academic edge.
Local churches or other organizations may also host book sales throughout the year as fundraisers. For a list of upcoming book sales in and around New York state, consult www.booksalefinder.com.
• Little Free Libraries
All over the United States – and across the globe – literacy-friendly neighborhoods are taking matters into their own hands and offering book exchanges called Little Free Libraries. The concept is simple: An individual, organization, or business builds a small “book shelter” – generally, a small wooden box – designed to keep books safe from the elements. It is then erected in a convenient outdoor neighborhood location and anyone is welcome to take a book and bring a book to share – it’s all on the honor system. Learn how to build your own little library here, or consult the map to find one in your neighborhood.
In the Capital Region, the Grassroot Givers organization sponsors several Little Free Libraries around the city of Albany, with the goal of establishing LFLs at each of the school district’s public schools. Their community store accepts a variety of donations, including books, household goods, basic necessities, and new or nearly new clothing, all of which are available at no charge to those who need them. Check here for guidelines on what items are needed and accepted.
• 1,000 Books Foundation
Based in Nevada, the 1,000 Books Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote early literacy for infants and toddlers and encourage parent-child bonding through reading. The 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program is a free and self-paced program open to any child from birth to kindergarten. A host of libraries across the country participate in the program, including many located right here in New York state. Suggested reading lists, mobile phone apps, and log sheets are available to make it easy to track your progress.
• Online Sources
Should you wish to broaden your search for low-cost books, here are some online options to explore:
- ThriftBooks- This online bookseller has more than 7 million books available, sorted by price, subject, reader’s age, and genre. Most titles are discounted by at least 50 percent off the list price, and shipping is free if you spend $10 or more. Otherwise, shipping is 99 cents per book.
- Barnes and Noble- Bargain books are available from Barnes & Noble for $5 or less. Shipping is free when you spend $25 or more.
- Amazon- Amazon’s online store has an amazing array of children’s books, new or used, for sale. The latter are available from third-party sellers at a deep discount.
- Downloadable eBooks- This is a digital age, so if you have a computer, electronic reader (e-reader, available used for less than $50), or other mobile device, you have even more options for accessing affordable reading materials for your child. What’s more, your local library can often help. The Upper Hudson Library system, for instance, allows members to check out 10 eBooks or digital audio books at a time for three weeks. Provided there’s no waiting list for a title, you may also be able to renew the book once. Perhaps best of all, there are no late fees charged for eBooks or digital audio books. The system will simply prompt you to delete the item from your electronic device.
Now that you know how you can build your home library without spending a fortune, how can you make the most of your reading time with your child? The following tips can help you set the stage for a life-long love of reading:
- Read to your child every day, even if it’s for a short period. It is valuable one-on-one time, and you are building your child’s capacity to learn to read, and eventually, to read to learn.
- Keep it fun. If your child loses interest in a story, don’t force it. Choose another book or activity that involves language skills, or take turns acting out portions of the story.
- Give your child a choice and select stories that reflect particular interests. Let her choose the book she wants to read, even if it’s for the 100th time. If he loves animals – or trucks or dinosaurs or flowers – select stories that expand his understanding of those topics.
- Offer a variety of books. Read nursery rhymes, prose, poetry, books about different cultures and different ages, as well as books with different features, like lift-the-flap stories or books with sounds.
- Take time for discussion. Ask your child questions about the pictures on the page, or find out what he thinks is going to happen next. You might be surprised at the interpretations!
- Model reading behaviors. There’s a saying that children walk where you walk, not where you point. Let your child know, by your actions, how important reading is in your life.
There are few gifts you can give a child that will last a lifetime, but reading – and your time and unconditional love, of course – are the most important. So even if you are on a shoestring budget, don’t put off reading to your child. Give them a headstart in life and start building your reading time and home library today!