When deprived children are bitten by the Bookbug

Initiative boosts language skills and emotional development

Frustrated and unable to express themselves in words, three-year-old twins Ben and Kyle Smith* would growl and scream at strangers who asked them a question.

But now the boys, who have delayed language development, are discovering better ways to communicate thanks to a pioneering outreach reading scheme. A year-long analysis of the impact of the Bookbug for the Home project has found that it significantly improves the emotional literacy of vulnerable young children as well as developing their ability to read and speak.

Researchers said the study highlighted the need for a shift in Scotland towards viewing the skill of reading in its initial stages "not as an academic capacity but as an emotional one".

Suzanne Zeedyk, an internationally respected early years research scientist at the University of Dundee who conducted the review, said: "Bookbug sessions have an impact on aspects of child development and family life that extend far beyond literacy.they impact on affection, the ability to express oneself, language development and the ability of a family to engage in outings like the cinema and shopping.

"It is important that we take on the full import of these insights and realise that Bookbug is building relationships."

Referring to Ben and Kyle, Dr Zeedyk added: "The twins' increase in language capacities will be giving them new ways to express themselves. If you have more language - which other people are interested in listening to - then you do not need to resort to screaming. Thus, increases in language, which Bookbug is interested in from the perspective of literacy, are also extremely important at an emotional level."

The original Scottish-government-funded programme provides free books for all early years children at four key stages: when they are babies, toddlers, aged 3 and aged 5. Parents are encouraged not just to read but also to talk, sing and cuddle with their children at home and at community sessions in libraries.

The outreach version of Bookbug was launched in 2012 in a bid to reach more struggling families and children in deprived areas. In the first year, just over 800 social workers and other professionals working with families in their homes were trained to run mini Bookbug sessions.

Overall, researchers found that the outreach scheme forged closer bonds between children and their parents, who felt more able to play, interact and read with them.

The number of parents reading daily with their children almost doubled from 41 per cent to 78 per cent. Nearly every professional taking part in the scheme (98 per cent) reported a positive impact on families as increased reading, singing and rhyming boosted children's confidence, social skills, speech and language development.

Ben and Kyle, who live just outside Glasgow, became involved through a family learning development worker. Researchers found that the boys' communication improved so dramatically that their parents could take them on outings together, which was previously impossible because of their behaviour.

"Kyle's talking is coming on a lot better," said the boys' mother, Lorna Smith*. "We could never have done a family thing like going to the cinema before.Bookbug has helped them to be a wee bit more like other children."

Bookbug is run by the Scottish Book Trust, which launched the outreach scheme in eight local authority areas. By 2016 it will be available in all 32 council regions. Chief executive Marc Lambert said: "The early years are crucially important for a child's development and this support can make a real difference to their future happiness, attainment and well-being."

* Names have been changed

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