A programme to encourage a love of reading in children from a young age is to be part-funded by the Department of Education.
The Bookstart Baby programme, run by the UK’s largest children’s reading charity BookTrust, will provide book packs to families with babies born in 2021 to support their early learning and development and encourage a positive home learning environment.
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said: “I’m pleased to support the Bookstart Baby programme in Northern Ireland this year, which will ensure parents are encouraged to read with their babies and young children
“Bookstart Baby packs aim to promote a love of reading in children from as young an age as possible. Reading to a child has enormous benefits from helping to build confidence, and develop empathy, creativity, communication and social skills, and is also a huge pleasure in itself.
“Around 24,000 babies born in 2020 were gifted a Bookstart Baby pack. This was especially important last year during the pandemic, as parents were limited in accessing normal support services.
“This is an essential programme for families in the local community as it reminds parents of the importance of looking at books and reading together. Shared reading with young children supports language development, confidence, communication skills and resilience.”
The Department will contribute £75,000 towards the delivery of BookTrust’s Bookstart Baby programme in Northern Ireland in 2021/22.
Chris Eisenstadt, Director of Northern Ireland at BookTrust said: “At BookTrust we believe all children should be able to reap the life changing benefits that reading brings and sharing stories with children in their first year is a crucial step on this journey.
“Thanks to the continued support from the Department of Education, we are able to ensure that all children born in Northern Ireland receive Bookstart Baby. These packs gifted by health visitors consist of books for very young children, finger puppets and top tips and are designed to encourage a love of books, stories and rhymes as early as possible.
“For parents of children born during the pandemic in the most challenging circumstances without access to their usual support networks, Bookstart Baby can be a lifeline, offering families an engaging resource to help bond with their child and providing health visitors with the opportunity to engage families in wider conversations about their child’s development.
“Reading together with children can have profound benefits with a lifelong positive impact, affecting their health, wellbeing, sleep and social development and we are delighted that a new generation of children in Northern Ireland will receive this support.”
New mum Naomi who received Bookstart Baby for her first child added: “We love it and still use the books and the bag every day. It’s good for parents, because reading wouldn’t be the first thing you think of when you first have a baby.”
It is expected that book packs will be delivered to another 24,000 families with babies born this year. The book packs will be distributed to families through their Health Visitor.