FAIRMONT - Being exposed to reading at an early age not only gives children a leg up when it's time to begin school, but also lays a foundation for learning.
With this in mind, the Martin County Library branches -?along with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Fairmont Early Childhood Initiative and Fairmont CER - have created a new early childhood reading program that kicks off Monday.
The program, called "Literacy Lasts a Lifetime: Families Reading Together," is simple: Children from birth to first grade can read or be read to, with a goal of 50 books between now and the end of April. To sweeten the deal, the program even provides a few free books to participating families.
"It doesn't matter if the books are ones they've read already or if they're from the library," said Martin County Library director Jenny Trushenski. "Any books that are read to them counts; it's just to encourage and promote the importance of early literacy."
Numerous studies have shown that children who are exposed to early literacy are better prepared to start school, and are also able to apply the skill to other avenues of their lives.
"We're not born knowing how text flows on a page," Trushenski said. "It gives them print awareness, to words that they see all around them. ... Being acclimated to that helps."
While the program officially kicks off Monday, parents can sign up anytime throughout the program.
"When they sign up, they get a free book, and then there is another free book once they read 25 books," Trushenski said. "Once they hit 50, they get four free books and a T-shirt."
While there are similar literacy programs, the "Families Reading Together" program is Martin County's own take.
"We've been working with the schools to distribute the information," Trushenski said. "There's been a good cooperation; our goals are the same to promote the importance of early literacy, and getting books into the hands of kids."
In cooperation with Roni Dauer of CER, grants were obtained for the books and the performers for the kickoff and end of program.
Magician and comedian Brian Richards will perform 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Martin County Library to kick off the program.