Grant News—Reading Study by the Grant County, NM Chapter of Imagination Library

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About three years ago the Grant County, NM Chapter of Imagination Library contacted our Foundation. Imagination Library is a project of the Dolly Parton Foundation. The main goals of Imagination Library are to get high quality books for young children into homes, and to encourage parents to read to their children. The idea here is that kids whose parents read to them are better prepared to enter and do well in school. In addition, from our Bowlbian attachment theory perspective, early parent – child reading could go a long way toward developing secure attachment. Our Foundation has supported the Grant County Imagination Library for the last three years. But this update is on a study that the Grant County Imagination Library has been conducting over the last three years (and our Foundation has been funding).

Grant County Imagination Library has been working with Dr. Ann Harvey, an education researcher at Western New Mexico University located in Silver City. For the last three years Dr. Harvey has been investigating a group of kids who have received books from Grant County Imagination Library. She’s also been tracking a control group that has not received books. This is effectively a longitudinal study. Here’s a blurb from the February 2016 Grant County Imagination Library Newsletter:

Dr. Ann Harvey, education professor at WNMU, is beginning to compile the reading scores for the third year of our study comparing reading proficiency scores of those children who received our books prior to Kindergraten to those who did not. Fall scores show a higher percentage of those [kids] who received our books continue to score at our above grade level compared to those who did not. The final results will be available next summer as these students prepare for third grade.

Well, I just received a copy of the final results for year three. Interestingly, the final results talk about how early parent – child reading plays a role in developing EF or executive function skills. As I have blogged about before, there seems to be a continuum that holds secure attachment, delaying gratification (one of the EF skills), and later life success. Here’s a copy of my email back to Grant County Imagination Library concerning the results of year three of their longitudinal study. It’s addressed to Barbara Nelson, president of Grant County Imagination Library:

Barbara – Nice write-up. I love all of the information on Executive Function. And I’m also a big fan of Elkhonon Goldberg’s work [an EF researcher cited in the write-up]. And I like the inclusion of the idea that parents act as cognitive scaffolding for their kids. Maybe you have heard of the work of Walter Mischel. Mischel developed the Marshmallow Test back in the 1960s. The Marshmallow Test is given to five and six year olds. It measures the ability to engage in “delayed gratification” or the ability to engage in “self-control,” both EF skills. Mischel wrote a book recently talking about the 40 (+) year history of the Marshmallow Test. The book is entitled “The Marshmallow Test—Mastering Self-Control.” Mischel worked with an attachment researcher and together they found that the Strange Situation Assessment (given to 18 to 24 month olds) correlated nicely with the Marshmallow Test. (See Chapter 4: “The Roots of Self-Control” p. 51–60.)

So, toddlers assessed as securely attached on the Strange Situation went on to have better developed delaying gratification and self-control skills as measured by the Marshmallow Test. As Mischel points out (and so too the write-up), EF skills like delaying gratification and self-control are critical for life success. Kids who did well on the Marshmallow Test went on to have such things as greater education levels, greater career satisfaction, greater family and marriage success and satisfaction, and greater retirement accounts. In essence, the ability to delay gratification is closely associated with valuing the future. Valuing the future is another EF skill. All this to say that reading to kids plays a huge role in not only developing secure attachment but also in developing EF, which is the foundation upon which life success rests. So, I enjoyed the write-up’s compelling narrative, one that points clearly to intervention strategies that help develop secure attachment and EF skills in young children.

So, just a quick update on our work with the Grant County Imagination Library. As a side note, Silver City is home to the First Born home visitation program. Our Foundation has supported home visitation programs including First Born (via a grant to the Los Alamos National Lab Foundation). Grant County Imagination Library is working with First Born. First Born home visitors are now trained to assess whether there are books for young children in the house. If not, parents are given information on how to sign up for free books through Grant County Imagination Library. Here’s an example of a small and inexpensive intervention that may have a big payoff down the road.