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Early Learning

The Impact of
Early Learning

Child getting a free dolly parton imagination book in the mail

$14

Sponsors 1 child for 1 year.

Have you ever read “The Little Engine That Could”? It’s an empowering and memorable story about finding confidence in your abilities and encouraging others to stay on track to reach their goals. It’s the first book kids receive from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, specially chosen by Dolly herself for its embodiment of the program's values.

 

By sponsoring the Imagination Library, you ensure that every child in Spokane County—from birth to age five—receives a free book each month. Our books are carefully selected to be age-appropriate, promote kindergarten readiness, improve early literacy and phonics, and be enjoyable to read. Families are encouraged to read together, and children learn to “play” with the books alone or with friends and siblings.

Identifying Disparities

Literacy is empowering and liberating, playing a crucial role in combating poverty. Unfortunately, standardized test results in Washington State reveal that only about half of students read at their expected level, with a significant literacy gap impacting traditionally-underserved communities. Additionally, some schools in Spokane County rank among the lowest in the state for kindergarten readiness, with scores as low as 9%, creating additional challenges for teachers, parents, and students.

Our Approach to Solving the Problem

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library currently serves over one-third of eligible children in Spokane County, addressing early literacy and kindergarten readiness. All children under five can receive a monthly free book, regardless of family income, fostering ownership and a personal library. The program also partners with the American Printing House (APH) to provide audio and braille books to eligible children.

 

A 2024 pilot study in Longview School District found that Imagination Library participants met or exceeded all eight WaKIDS literacy objectives, outperforming their non-participant peers in crucial literacy skills. The program benefited low-income and non-low-income students alike, with 85% of families reporting positive changes in their children.

Success Story

Established in Spokane in 2022, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has already positively impacted the community. Over two dozen children have been enrolled on the literal day of their birth. Books are among their earliest memories, and receiving one in the mail each month, addressed to them, is the norm. Many families have told us about the excitement their child has each month awaiting their new book. Since children of different ages recieve different books, siblings will often read to each other. One parent explains the challenge of purchasing books outside of the program:

“...All the good books are expensive. I want to buy [books for my kids but] it’s like $16 and then if I do that four times over, it’s a lot of money.”

 

Teachers report significant improvements, and over 75% of parents statewide observe increased interest in reading among their children. One parent shared how their child eagerly checks the mailbox, excited to receive a new book addressed to them.

 

Children in our program aren’t the only ones who note a change in behavior toward reading. Parents, relatives, siblings, and teachers are also positively affected. Here are the words of a parent who struggled with literacy themself:

“I never liked it but I am getting better at reading with them.... because when I was younger, I never wanted to read. THat’s why it’s a bit hard to actually read. When the books come, I read it and I’m like ok I’ll go make tea now. He’ll go ‘read it again’. So I have to make myself read it again because I hated reading when I was younger...but I’m enjoying the story. I’m enjoying trying to teach [child’s name] how to read. So yeah, I’m gettin better at it. I just have to find the time and find the courage to say I’m going to read. I’m not going to out back and get the clothes in yet. I sit down and read the book.”

Long-Term Impact

The Imagination Library has shown positive results across all the states and countries it is active in. In a recent study of students entering Longview School District here in Washington, children in our program scored higher on kindergarten readiness tests than those who weren’t enrolled. Similarly, enrolled students performed better—often significantly so—in nearly every WaKIDS Literary Objective.

 

Early literacy improves lives across generations. Children who read with their parents enhance their relationships and are more likely to teach their own children to read, breaking cycles of poverty. Early literacy also contributes to better mental health outcomes for both children and the adults they become.

 

Investment Strategy

Despite minimal overhead, the growing public interest necessitates increased community investment. We aim to build local capacity through:

  • Community donations, especially from program beneficiaries (the books we provide are and always will be free to children, regardless of their family income).

  • Grants from local and national partners.

  • Bequests from individuals including the program in their wills.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library offers a free, low-barrier program accessible to any child under five in Spokane County. By sponsoring this initiative, you provide up to sixty free, high-quality books to children, fostering early literacy and long-term academic success. We invite you to join us in this remarkable opportunity and share your experiences with the program!

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Get some swag!

Buying our merch will help us reopen an sustain enrollment in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in Spokane, providing free books for kids 0-5!

Our stylish, high-quality merchandise is more than just a purchase – it's a symbol of your commitment to making a difference. From cozy t-shirts to trendy accessories, every item supports a great cause.

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