The importance of Bookstart in Northern Ireland
Published on: 11 May 2015 Author: Kate Mairs
Mum-of-two and PhD student Kate Mairs has set up a petition to reinstate funding for Bookstart in Northern Ireland, to ensure all children get the same headstart in life.
Two months ago BookTrust was saddened to learn that the Northern Ireland Government would no longer be funding Bookstart, meaning that 50,000 babies and children in Northern Ireland could miss out on the early intervention reading programme, which gives families free books, reading tips and book recommendations.
Kate, who has seen first-hand how the Bookstart book packs helped her children grow to love reading, says she wants other families to have the same opportunities as hers and other children in the UK.
'Both my sons were given Bookstart packs - one book in particular Happy Dog, Sad Dog was a definite favourite in our house. In fact I could recite it now; I've read it that many times.'
'My children's love of reading, has in turn led to them becoming inquisitive about the world and incredibly imaginative.'
'I don't want this generation of children to grow up with an inheritance of illiteracy. Not all families see the benefits in reading to their children. Providing them with Bookstart packs means the parents don't have to make a special effort, but it does mean that children will benefit from having books in their homes and parents are more likely to read to the children if the books are there.'
A few years ago BookTrust commissioned Professor Barrie Wade and Dr Maggie Moore to research the effectiveness of Bookstart. They researched a group of children starting primary school that had received Bookstart packs, and compared them with a group of children who hadn't received Bookstart packs.
The research proved Bookstart makes a difference as it showed children who had Bookstart packs were not only 'better prepared for starting school', but maintained their superiority 'throughout their first years of primary education'.
Kate, who is in the first year of her PhD at Queen's University, Belfast, is currently researching the links between spoken language and the ability to read in primary-school children.
She said: 'I've found in my research that you can tell the difference between children who are read to and those who aren't - so I'm forever telling people to read to their children when they are young!
'Parents reading, singing and talking with their children is a vital part of their education, and it happens in the home. That's why Bookstart is so important - even if parents don't know how important it is to read, they're given the opportunity to read with their children by being given Bookstart packs. For some children, these are likely to be the only books they have.'
'Bookstart also provides families with an ability to learn to love reading and directs them to libraries - it is a vital cog in the machinery of early literacy.'
'If we remove these early reading opportunities, then we're limiting the potential of a whole generation of children.'