Storytime was a treasured time in many of our childhoods. Memories spent with family exploring new worlds and discovering different words not only opened our minds to the wonders of reading, but was a precious bonding experience.
Research shows that there are a myriad of positive effects and long-lasting benefits of reading to babies and young children.
The more often children are read to, the more likely they are to do better at school, not just in reading, but in language, numeracy, and comprehension. Reading to children every day can even give them up to a year’s head start at school.
Babies and young children also enjoy being read to, with the experience enhancing the parent-child bond. It has been shown that a strong bond between a caregiver and child during the early years significantly improves outcomes in life for the child and the wider family unit.
But for some parents, reading to their baby or young child isn’t a regular activity. There can be a range of reasons for this, including the prohibitive cost of books, or simply that parents themselves were not read to as a child and do not recognise the benefits.
Storytime Foundation is the only agency delivering books and information, free, into New Zealand’s most deprived homes through well child providers, to enhance early attachment, build cohesive families and improve social outcomes.
Between 1st November 2017 and 31st October 2020, Storytime was funded by TECT, BayTrust, Rotorua Trust and DIA (NZ Lotteries) to provide books to children, families and whānau living in the Bay of Plenty area.
The programme targets vulnerable families, including women in the third trimester of their pregnancy, and those with children up to three years of age.
This involves working in partnership with Plunket, Family Start, REAP, Tamariki Ora, midwives, DHB Special Care Baby Units and other agencies as well as working closely with paediatricians, Ministry of Education and Oranga Tamariki to identify whānau and help deliver books and resources.
Storytime Foundation Chief Executive Tony Culliney says the programme has been incredibly important for the region.
“There are a large number of families that experience adverse circumstances that live in the Bay; families that are more isolated, often without transport or with limited transport.
“According to DHB data for Index of Deprivation levels 8 to 10, the most deprived, there are 1,278 families with babies in that cohort across the Bay of Plenty. This is just those with babies, so we can double that at least for children in the first 1000 days of life. Of course, many of these families experience deprivation in many ways, including poor housing, low income, and food scarcity.”
2974 children participated in the programme over the three years from across the Western Bay, Eastern Bay, Rotorua, Taupo and Turangi.
All the families were identified as experiencing adverse circumstances, with most having few if any books in the home.
Participating families received a number of resources, including books, games, activities and handouts. As well as books in English, some books were in te reo and Pacific languages. All of these were provided to parents and caregivers with explanations as to how to use the resources and the many benefits of reading to children.
An evaluation of the programme shows some great outcomes were achieved.
While a quarter of homes had no children’s books prior to the programme, this is no longer the case. There was a significant increase in the number of books in homes which appeared to be more than the number of books provided by Storytime Foundation.
At the start of the programme, 10% of families said they seldom or never read to their toddler. This decreased to 2% at follow-up.
70% of the parents said they read to their babies more frequently since receiving the books, with 37% of parents reading to their babies several times a day. Parents commented that the books act as a reminder of the importance and benefits of reading to their children.
Families and whānau say they are enjoying the books provided, along with the range and quality. They have appreciated Storytime providing information on the importance of reading together on relationships and development.
Tony says he is pleased with the results of the evaluation.
“We are very happy with the evaluation. It clearly articulates our rationale, the families we reach and what we do to improve outcomes for the families that participate. It also helps us to understand what difference our programme makes.”
He says providing books and inspiring families to read to their children is the first step, with positive feedback from the child encouraging longer-term reading habits.
“One thing we know is that when a parent receives positive feedback from their child, it encourages them to repeat that activity – a baby’s smile or gurgle, a toddler’s excitement when a book is presented. Time is an important factor too, so picking a time when baby and parent or caregiver can have relaxing, loving time is better than rushing to meet a deadline.
Babies and young children are like sponges that soak in practically everything in their environments. Reading to a child — at any age — will boost their brain development, attachment, and so much more. And all it takes is a few books, motivation, and a little time.”
Tony says the funders’ support was critical to bringing an extended version of the programme to the Bay of Plenty.
“We had previously delivered our Books for Babies programme across the Bay, so only delivering to families with a baby. We had commenced a pilot to test the efficacy of extending our reach to children from the third trimester to 3 years, called Books for Babies: First 1000 Days, and so this funding allowed us to extend to deliver to mums antenatally and to families with toddlers up to 3 years of age.
“We can often raise funds in a region to purchase books, though often a limited number. However, many funders won’t cover the cost of making it happen, such as the overheads, evaluation, project management, travel, insurance, postage, and printing brochures. We are incredibly grateful to TECT, BayTrust, Rotorua Trust and DIA for funding all of this.”
To learn more about Storytime Foundation, visit https://storytime.org.nz/.