I started 10 Books A Home (10BH) wanting to get donated books into the homes of high poverty families (this demographic represents 20% of U.S students). Quickly, though, I realized just giving books wasn't going to have the transformative impact I intended. There was no way to know what happened with those donated books.
As I moved 10BH into its second phase by recruiting volunteers to read stories to preschoolers in their classrooms (700 children a month in 50 classrooms), I saw more of the impact I was looking for. I could see the children engaging with the reading material.
I launched our Child-Parent Home Tutoring Program in 2011, though, to bring the power of reading and learning fully into the living room. Through this vehicle, I could take the donated books I wanted to give, let our volunteer Role Models (the tutors) pick books to bring that their Learners would enjoy, and then read those books with the children. Now, I could see how the books were being used!
But, if parents don't engage too, then books can become "decor". So, parents had to participate in order to be admitted to our free home tutoring program. They have to: (1) participate in every lesson, (2) read with their children between lessons, (3) and complete homework with their children assigned by Role Models.
So, now I know that parents are using the books we give them with their children (we teach them how to use them, too). But, books need a beautiful home to live in, otherwise, like e-books, they can be there without anyone knowing it. On top of the 60 new-to-gently-used books each Learner receives (to own), we give them a beautifully painted child's bookcase (to own). This creates a physical presence around books and gives the child ownership over and pride about their library (e.g. we work in garages where a bookcase immediately has a transformative impact).
Last obstacle in my way was the fact that children will only spend their free time learning if they like learning. With only one hour of tutoring a week (for 2 years from age 3-5 when the child enters kindergarten), we needed a way to set children ablaze with passion to learn. So, I scaled up my personal tutoring approach into what we call the Learner Centric Approach. This approach ensures our Role Models only teach children skills they find intrinsically interesting. And, Role Models are able to borrow more than 400 learning activities from our Learning Activity Room (and leave as homework) in order to cover skills beyond reading that include cutting, sewing, puzzles, duplos, seasons, paleontology, doctor visits, car driving, etc. that work on letters, numbers, colors, shapes, vocabulary, and more!
So, now I know that children: (1) are falling in love with and using the books we are giving them, (2) are falling in love with learning, (3) have the books and educational resources to use in their free time, (4) have parents who are learning how to be their children's teachers in the living room, and (5) ultimately, children are developing skills and behaviors needed to be at/above grade level when they enter kindergarten.
I'm grateful that the article questioned the idea of "books in home" vs. "books used in home". The answer to that question, in my opinion, lies in the culture around books AND LEARNING in the home. This is a durable quality that clearly explains why home libraries are a better predictor of student achievement than wealth.
I believe our nation's poorest are just as capable of success as our wealthiest. That's why I have been iteratively developing a program model that does more than just put donated books into the homes of poor kids, and which will serve 1.6 M high poverty preschoolers annually by 2035.