Thanet Star

Getting a Bookstart in life

As a boy as was read to by my parents from a very young age. As the oldest child this formed part of a special time that had no other siblings for me to compete with. I remember that I was still quite young when my mum gave me my first proper book. It was an adventure story called the Boy Next Doy by Enid Blyton and after my mum would read me a chapter I would read as many more as I could before I fell asleep.

Reading has never left me and laid a foundation for the remainder of my learning enabling me to pick up skills and knowledge far in advance of many of my peers and contemporaries. There is no doubt in my mind that reading was the key to much of the success I enjoy today. While not all children come from a book loving family (where would we be if we were all the same) there are groups that wish to promote reading to all.

Book Start is one such project. It is administered by a national independent charity called Booktrust and is a national program to encourage parents (and carers too) to enjoy books with children from as early an age as possible. The project is sponsored by over 25 children’s publishers (as well as other large enterprises) enabling the distribution of free books to small children.

Wendy Cooling, the Bookstart senior consultant explains:

"We have always instinctively known that reading to very young children was good for them, though there was very little research showing this. I wanted to explore the impact that early book-sharing would have upon whole child development and upon children's pre-literacy skills."

As a dad this means to me that my children will be given an extra boost to their start in life despite the apparent extra hurdle of living in . This is no small thing. In this article I will be looking at the potential impact of Bookstart and the obstacles it faces. I will also be reporting on the results of a number of discussions I carried out as part of my research.

Getting the Bookstart packs to every child was never going to be an easy thing to do but something they seem dedicated to doing. This can only be a good thing and something that we businessmen will start to feel real benefit from in the next 14 to 18 years as potential customers and employees come to us with a substantially improved level of literacy (over current averages). This also means a greater level of earning power and with it a larger disposable income - something that from a business point of view translates as a more viable market sector.

All that from letting the littlest members of our society read a few books! In theory this early planting of seeds could regenerate Thanet over a 25 year period at a relatively small cost of investment. A cost that is already paid for by a range of insightful companies (Sainsbury’s PLC had a hand in this too).

There is no way in which we as people that live in Thanet do not benefit from such joined up thinking. As blog (or other web content) writers and readers (potential and actual) we too can have a part to play in helping this scheeme be a success.

I spoke with Tash - the new Children's Librarian at the Sure Start Millmead (children's) Library. Tash has recently taking over running of the library (located in the Sure Start Millmead community cafe) after it had been forced to close in the later half of 2007 following the retirement of the former librarian. The library provides books for children and parents to look at together and for children to look at on thier own. All ages are catered for with cloth books for the very very young through hard page books to picture and text based books for the four plus range.

According to Tash there are a number of Bookstart packs that are made available free of charge to all aprents for each child. According to the Bookstart website: "The Bookstart for Babies and Bookstart Plus packs are usually delivered to families by their health visitors, for babies at around 7-9 months and toddlers aged between 18-30 months respectively. My Bookstart Treasure Chest is then gifted to 3-4-year-olds at early years settings such as nurseries and playgroups."

I asked Tash about Bookstart and how the book packs are distributed to children. She explained to me that there was not just a single totally reliable method of distributing them but that with the paid childcare vouchers Nurseries can work with the local libraries to distribute the packs to parents. This generally covers most children. However, don't hold your breath if you visit what's left of Margate library - despite what the Bookstart websites says I understand Margate Library are currently not involved. (I have no idea if this is because they have lost so much space to the council or just because of the work that has been going on or if it some other reason.) (updated)

Bookstart organisers hope to get most children in this way it does require the co-operation of the nurseries. Also, it is sure to miss some children. There are measures that are being taken to improve on this but without a reliable framework for distribution to young children some may still be missed. (I will be talking more about this in a moment).

Fortunately, for parents that feel that they may have been missed out, Tash is currently in the process of arranging for the Sure start Millmead Library to carry book packs and was hopeful that they might be available as soon as next week. The library opens every Wednesday from 9:30am and closes at 4:00pm with Baby Bounce and Rhyme taking place at eleven o'clock. Baby Bounce and Rhyme being an activity that is fun for parent and baby and encourages the early development of speech as well as confidence - two vital first steps on the road from baby to adult.

Because the library is located within the cafe parents can stop and order a hot drink and something to eat (I intend to review the cafe at some stage but for now allow me to highly recommend it). There is a children's play bus in the community cafe and there are often numerous advisers available to chat making it one of the best resources for parents on the estate (I am told).

In theory the Bookstart packs could be available this Wednesday and if you are in the area it is definitly worth stopping in and having a chat with Tash about bookstart and the also about the services of the library.

Tash also pointed me to the Bookstart website where I learned of a number of sub-projects such as the Bookstart Book Crawl, the Booktouch scheme for blind and partially sighted children and Bookstart Rhymetime activities. I also learned some interesting facts and figures about the impact of the scheme.

As bloggers, business people and members or the general public we can contribute in a number of simple and even cost free ways. Those of us with websites, for example, can help to raise awareness of the scheme and direct people to sources of further information. For we bloggers this might take the form of a short post about the subject, a interview or even just a link to the book start website (be sure to get the www in as without it nothing is returned).

Even if you lack a personal website (something I can help you to correct if you wish) just being aware of the project and making mention of it in the right context can be enough to help parents find an extra and valuable resource they might have otherwise missed. Even something as simple as submitting this article to a social bookmarking site will help get out the word (promotion is in my blood). But even if all of that is beyond the scope of your current technological skill set simply going to the Sure Start Millmead Library and having a cuppa and a chat with Tash will not only be good for you but a great show of support and an opportunity to find out more.

If you have not gotten as far as having your own children yet (or if your tribe have all grown up and moved on) give a Mum or Dad a new year gift of a little peace and time to themselves and take someone else's little person to a place where they will have fun, you can sit down and they can learn without notice. Borrow a book while you are there too that way you have a reason to do it again a week or two later. Let's face it - it's cold out at the moment and there are precious few places to take children so make the most of the one's that do exist and help regenerate Thanet while you do.

UPDATES: I understood "wrong" about Margate Library and Tash has corrected me. Also I was unaware and updated to the fact that parents will need to bring their "red books" to claim the bookstart packs.

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