Storytime strengthens family connections and children's development

Storytime is a fond memory for many when thinking of their childhood. Having parents, older siblings, and wider family members bringing stories to life with funny voices and extravagant expressions provides more than a bonding experience for children.

Research shows a wide range of benefits of reading to babies and young children, especially throughout the first 1,000 days of their life. Children read to frequently are more likely to do better at school in reading, language, numeracy, and comprehension.

Storytime Foundation delivers books free of charge to low-income families or those who have experienced adversity. Reading with babies and young children strengthens the early attachment between children and their parents, increases family unity and enhances social outcomes.

Storytime Foundation provide a total of nine books to families throughout the first three years of their child’s life, and along with English and Te Reo, there are also Pacific language books. In total, nine languages are available to ensure the programme is available to a broad range of families in our community.

It is also an enjoyable activity which enhances the parent-child bond. Also of great importance is the back-and-forth exchanges of verbal and nonverbal communications, where the parent or caregiver responds to the infant’s cues and the infant responds to the caregiver’s signals, referred to as ‘serve and return’. Evidence shows that a strong bond between parent/caregiver and child during the first 1,000 days of their life significantly improves outcomes for the child and the wider family unit.

Despite the evidence and positive memories for many, for some parents, reading to their children does not happen. Reasons for this range from the cost of books to the parents having never been read to as a child and therefore not seeing it as an important part of their parenting journey.

Launched in Auckland in 1997, Storytime expanded to Tauranga in 2012 and now has 687 families enrolled. The programme focuses on families in their third trimester of pregnancy up to children three years of age.

Books and resources are provided to families through the support of Plunket, Family Start, Tamariki Ora, midwives, Special Care Baby Units, and the Ministry of Education and Oranga Tamariki who identify families they work with, who will benefit from the delivery of free books and resources.

“We rely on the relationships these agencies have with whānau as they’re the ones going into the homes to meet and can work with parents to see the benefits of reading with their tamariki and of serve and return,” says Storytime Foundation, Chief Executive Tony Culliney.

“We aim to reach every whānau within deprivation index 9 and 10, as we know that they often can’t afford books or themselves, and weren’t read to as a child. By providing them with books and resources to make storytime a part of their everyday life, as well as be the propellor towards a better future for the child and overall whānau, it’s highly important we continue our work,” says Tony.

Once families are identified by referral agencies, they can provide the first book straight away, digitally enrol them in the programme and provide an extensive introduction to the programme’s benefits. Whānau Pepeha is the first book all families receive; a black and white cloth fold-up book that depicts a pepeha so parents can talk to their tamariki about their whakapapa.

A recent grant of $10,000 from TECT will allow Storytime Foundation to continue operating in Tauranga and the Western Bay communities.

TECT Trustee Rachael Gemming says, “We know that from supporting Storytime Foundation, more families will have the opportunity to create a positive impact in their child’s development, and the overall bonds within families will be strengthened.”

“Evidence from the Foundation’s evaluation shows that more of our families will visit their local libraries more often and become more confident and competent parents,” says Rachael. “If reading to their children is one thing a parent can do each day, even for 10 minutes, it will benefit them all by providing a positive, fun, relaxing and educational part of their daily routine.”

Knowing that this programme positively impacts individuals by boosting brain development and improving attachment between children and parents alone is enough. However, the impact on the community by having engaged parents and happier children is exponentially positive. The children impacted by Storytime Foundation today will have better reading and comprehension skills to maximise their education in the future. As well as bring storytime to their own families when they have children themselves and deliver intergenerational benefits.

To learn more about Storytime Foundation, visit their website.


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