If you were listening to Radio 4 recently you may have heard country singer Dolly Parton discussing her ‘Imagination Library’ programme which provides children with a free book every month from birth to the age of 5. Soon to be rolled out to all children in care in Scotland, the scheme began its UK presence in the unlikely town of Rotherham (a word Dolly acknowledges she still has difficulty pronouncing!). What began as an initiative to encourage parents to read with their children in her hometown in Tennessee has now spread across the world to over 900 communities including 12 in the UK (with a few tweaks along the way – apparently the ‘panel of experts’ think British children will benefit more from Peter Rabbit (the first book in the UK scheme) than ‘The Little Engine that Could’ (the first book sent to children in the US)).
It’s not just Dolly who’s championing the importance of spending one-on-one reading time with a child. Our Every Child a Reader Report shows how a Government scheme called ‘Reading Recovery’ can have can have positive results once a child starts school. Reading Recovery is an intensive programme of one-to-one reading support delivered by specialist teachers. Focusing on the lowest literacy achievers after their first year of school, Reading Recovery involves lessons for 30 minutes a day for an average of 20 weeks. 86% of children with below average literacy levels at the start of the academic year, attained Level 1 or above at the end of the year, compared to 60% of similar children who didn’t receive Reading Recovery. Across the board our report shows that children who are encouraged to read via one-on-one support achieve more. Children were found to be better at decoding text, had more confidence in tackling new books and were better able to initiate ideas and activities than those children who didn’t receive ‘Reading Recovery’.
Of course not every child who is read to will love reading or necessarily excel in literacy (although 72% of children in Reading Recovery’ enjoyed silent reading following the one to one tuition compared to 55% of those who weren’t in the programme), but it seems evident that not providing one on one support – via parents reading to their children or via expert support in schools – means failing to provide children with the opportunity many of them need to develop key literacy skills.
As Dolly says in her video promoting the ‘Imagination Library’ “When we read to children regularly a lot of wonderful things happen, the kids develop a greater ability to learn, their imaginations grow and their grades and reading ability improves. It’s a fact, reading to children is one of the most important things we can do for them and their futures”.
Dolly, I wholeheartedly agree!