Research from UL's Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning shows that books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program have made a positive impact on local children and families, and that 98% of families surveyed feel that participation in the program by their child left them better prepared to enter kindergarten.  The nationally recognized book program is implemented through United Way of Acadiana.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program is an early literacy program designed to bring children's books into the homes of families with children birth through five years of age. Each month, the child receives a brand-new, age-appropriate book through the mail. United Way of Acadiana began the program in June 2009. Through December 2010, United Way of Acadiana enrolled 4,148 families within its four-parish service area of Acadia, Vermilion, Lafayette and St. Martin parishes. Since the publishing of the report, the organization has a total enrollment of 4,379 families in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program.

"United Way of Acadiana launched Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to increase the number of homes and neighborhood environments that are rich with educational experiences," explained Margaret Trahan, United Way of Acadiana President/CEO. "Our partnership with the Picard Center provides the measurements needed to ensure our efforts around education and early grade literacy are making a positive impact for the children of Acadiana."
The Picard Center evaluated the performance outcomes of the program, as part of United Way's goal of having participating children prepared to enter kindergarten with the appropriate reading skills. The Center selected a sample size of 600 and received a total of 124 responses through a parent phone survey.

"With our center's focus on families, early childhood, and literacy, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program connected a number of dots consistent with the concept that a parent is a child's first teacher," noted Dr. Billy R. Stokes, Picard Center Executive Director. Continuing, he said, "Anything parents, preschools, and Head Starts can do to enhance children's literary experiences go a long way toward ensuring they are ready for school."

The most significant finding from the survey indicated that parents increased daily reading to their child due to participation in the DPIL program. In fact, approximately 45% of parents read to their child every day before participating in the program; that percentage increased to 71% since the families' participation in the program.

Additional findings include:

  • 83% of families surveyed indicated their child could look at pictures and tell stories.
  • 100% of families surveyed indicated their child enjoys hearing stories, poems and rhymes.
  • 65% of families surveyed indicated their child understands the printed word carries a meaning or message.
  • 78% of families surveyed indicated their child makes up pretend stories during reading time.
  • 89% of families surveyed indicated they felt their child enjoys reading more since beginning the DPIL program.

Survey analyses also reveal:

  • Parents' perception of the program is positive. Parents feel their children are more engaged in pre-reading skills such as storytelling, reciting stories, poems and rhymes; children have a better understanding that the printed word carries meaning; frequency of reading time has dramatically increased through participation in this program; and children's enjoyment of reading has increased.
  • Parents feel confident that their child will be better prepared for pre-readiness classes since participating in this program.
  • Survey data reveal that this program is successfully providing reading readiness opportunities to children ages birth through five by engaging in parent-child interaction time in a familiar, safe setting.

"Our research center is very encouraged by what we're seeing with the results of the Imagination Library program. From our involvement with participants in other states, we understand they are seeing similar results, and we look forward to sharing our results at the national Imagination Library conference this June," noted Stokes.

Future evaluations of the DPIL program will include assessing children before and after the program through pre- and post tests and developing a longitudinal study of all students who have participated in the program. The longitudinal evaluation will follow the children throughout their school years and track their academic outcomes. Researchers handling the longitudinal evaluation are especially interested in studying those most at risk for academic failure and those who are entering kindergarten with age-appropriate reading readiness skills.

The Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning is a research center comprised of a multidisciplinary group of evaluation and research professionals who focus on early childhood, K-12 education, school-based health, poverty's effects on families, and lifelong learning. As an integral part of the University of Louisiana's research mission, the Center provides high-quality, rigorous evaluations of programs that are implemented to address learning from birth through adulthood. Applied research is continually conducted in all areas of education, health, and well-being to ensure a prosperous and healthy future for all of Louisiana's children.

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