Let's commit to reading projects, no matter what

15th May 2015 at 01:00

When my son, a toddler at the time, received a copy of Debi Gliori's picture book No Matter What from our health visitor, he was still a few months away from being able to appreciate it. I, on the other hand, was moved to tears within five minutes.

Sleep deprivation probably contributed to my emotional state, but the book has become a firm favourite in our house. Its message of unconditional love can soften even the hardest day.

No Matter What is one of about a dozen books my family has received for free through the Bookbug scheme. My daughter is now benefiting from the books her brother was given; and with the initiative being extended to P2-3s next year, they, and thousands more, will benefit for even longer (see pages 12-13 and the News focus on pages 16-18)

You could argue that the children of university-educated parents will always be exposed to books. But avid adult readers aren't necessarily well equipped to choose what would appeal to children. Equally, without Bookbug, I may not have realised just how early books can be introduced. My daughter, aged just 1, is already a book lover.

Literacy expert Dr Sue Ellis says anything that puts books into the hands of children is "great news". Encouraging children to read for pleasure is the key to improving literacy, she believes. It is why children from advantaged backgrounds tend to be better at reading and writing than those from poorer homes.

As Scottish Book Trust director Marc Lambert says, books are "a great leveller". The trust, which is responsible for Bookbug, recognises that access is not always enough; the organisation also trains up social workers and health visitors to work with vulnerable families, ensuring that all children can benefit from the scheme.

Another notable project - Dunbar Reads Together - mobilised a whole community to encourage children to read. Every child identified an adult to read with them, from parents to Girl Guide leaders. And everyone in the town, from waiters in the local Italian to the staff in Asda, wore lanyards proudly displaying the title of their latest read.

This summer, Ellis will explain the thinking behind the University of Strathclyde's literacy clinics to an audience in Australia. The drive to improve reading standards, which involves student teachers working with pupils in Glasgow primaries on a one-toone basis, has "changed the trajectory of children's lives", she says. Instead of a particular reading programme, the adults use diagnostic skills to match their teaching to the needs of each child.

It is to our shame that projects like these often flourish but are then allowed to wither and die, sometimes because their champions move on, sometimes because funding runs out. Lambert would like successful literacy projects to be backed for 20 years, not just three or five. Maybe if we committed to successful schemes "no matter what", we would start to see the improvement we crave.

emma.seith@tesglobal.com

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