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Babies get a Bookstart in life

2 August 2005

The British Education Minister, Ruth Kelly has just pledged £27 million ($48 million) to turn the ‘books for babies’ Bookstart scheme into a reality for every child. Generous funding from the Chancellor has enabled the wonderful Bookstart scheme to be extended on a national scale and will fund three book parcels being provided for each child.

Starting in 1992 with 300 babies, the scheme has grown over the years, reaching 650,000 babies by 2000 and over a million since then. Now the funding will allow for greater distribution to more children and the talk is of 9 million books.

At their 8 month health check the babies receive their first pack, which consists of 2 baby books, a nursery rhyme placemat, advice on sharing books with children, a book list and an invitation to join the local library. At around eighteen months the toddlers received a satchel-type bag containing two books, a scribble pad and a library invitation. At the age of around three, the children will get a Bookstart treasure chest, a box with hidden compartments containing books.

Throughout this distribution of government-funded largesse, the emphasis has been on helping babies to enjoy books from the very earliest age and to encourage parents to read to their children and take them to the library.

Jacqueline Wilson, the children’s Laureate, said: ‘I had my daughter when I was very young - just 21 and with no money - and I would have loved it had the government sent me a pile of lovely, coloured books. It is fantastic that the government is trying to encourage parents to read aloud.’

The 20 publishers involved in this initiative have supplied books in increasingly large quantities, often at close to cost. Many parents have responded with enthusiasm and the feedback from the children has encouraged parents also to focus on reading to their children and making books part of their lives from an early age.

The results show clearly that Bookstart works. A study carried out by the University of Birmingham in 2000 showed that Bookstart children showed a significantly increased interest in books. A further study in 2001, by the University of Surrey, showed that Bookstart youngsters were six times more likely to be library members and confirmed that the effect of the early exposure to books lasts and helps with the children's attitudes to reading throughout their schooldays. And thus the children are turned into readers for life. It really is a fantastic scheme!