Bookstart has been running since the early 1990s, and offers affiliation to projects across the world so that free books can be given to babies and young children in many countries. There are now Bookstart schemes operating throughout the UK. They often include inter-agency working between a local authority, a library service and a health authority. A free Bookstart pack for babies is usually given to parents by health visitors at the time of a baby's 7-9 month developmental check, and 'Bookstart +' to parents of toddlers between 18 and 30 months. Early years settings are the principal distributors for 'My Bookstart Treasure Chest' packs to children aged 3 to 4 years. Parents and carers can also obtain all three packs from their local library.
Bookstart schemes promote the idea that there is much of value when parents share books with babies, interact and talk with them, and attend to their responses. The University of Birmingham School of Education evaluated the pilot Bookstart schemes. The researchers indicated a substantial increase in babies’ awareness of books, in the sharing of books, in enrolment of babies in libraries, in the use of book clubs, and in the general use of books in homes. Their follow-up studies found that children who had been involved with Bookstart as babies did particularly well at school learning, as assessed by baseline measures and also Key Stage 1 assessment (Wade and Moore 1998, 2000) again suggesting that enjoyment leads to achievement.
Weinberger (1996) has identified two key experiences in children's lives that can help them to become readers: first, that they have a favourite book by the age of three; and second, that they become members of a library. Bookstart does much that enables this to happen.
In some areas, Bookstart and Sure Start are working together. Sure Start aims to improve the health and well-being of families and children (before and from birth) so that children are ready to flourish when they go to school.
Rosemary Clarke, National Coordinator for Bookstart, explains the links with Sure Start, and highlights future developments for Bookstart:
The major difference between Sure Start and the national Bookstart programme is that Bookstart intends to reach every baby in the UK. Sure Start is targeted towards designated areas of social need. However, Bookstart schemes are working very effectively in partnership with Sure Start areas. There is a considerable amount of Bookstart outreach work in Sure Start areas, and the schemes have often built on the success of the first Bookstart pack for eight month olds by providing a further Bookstart Plus pack for children aged eighteen months. Sure Start has recognised that often more than one intervention is needed if the Bookstart message is to be taken on by parents.
The new Bookstart Plus pack was launched in autumn 2002, and is available from Booktrust, the charity that administers Bookstart. It was followed by a My Bookstart Bag for three year olds in autumn 2003. Due to funding constraints, only the Bookstart pack for children aged eight months is available to every UK child at the moment. However, Sure Start areas may decide to provide their children with the advantage of the two extra Bookstart gifts, such as Bookstart Plus and My Bookstart Bag.
Parents who are not familiar with Bookstart can make contact with their health visitor, nursery nurse or local library to find out more about local schemes. Parents who live in areas where there are no schemes can receive a free ‘mini’ Bookstart pack from Booktrust.
Activity 4 Making suggestions
What kinds of suggestions do you make to parents about how they can support their children's development and learning at home? Make a note of some of these in your notebook.
Making suggestions can help to develop your partnership with parents and improve the chances that you both have the same approach.
Suggestions may be practised already in children's homes, of course many parents give a great deal of thought to supporting their children's learning. Much of this is not visible to practitioners because it takes place within the stream of family, community and religious life. Noticing this many years ago, Sharpe (1980) referred to the ‘hidden hand of home’.
Parents need to feel they can openly discuss their methods of supporting children's learning without the risk of 'correction'.