Free books for kids planned to boost family supports

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone

Free books throughout a child’s life and new initiatives for children’s early learning will form part of a campaign to boost family supports.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone will announce the measures later this month as part of a 10-year plan for the development, education and well-being of children

Parents and families will receive a book bag with resources to support children’s playful early learning. The bags will be made available free to families with young children at key points in a child’s life, including at infancy, transition to pre-school, and when they enter primary school.

A €1m pilot project will initially see 2,500 two-year-olds and 2,500 four-year-olds involved in the book bag initiative as part of Ms Zappone’s plan. Her department is keen that this begins in the first half of next year.

A national information campaign will be launched to build awareness of the role parents and families play in supporting children’s early learning with advice on creating playful learning environments. A bedtime reading campaign will be carried out as part of this initiative.

Child-friendly events at local libraries to encourage an interest in books from an early age will also go ahead.

The measures will be announced on November 19, alongside other funding and plans for early development supports for parents.

Ms Zappone, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other ministers will oversee elements of the 10-year-plan, which is being targetted at newborns to children aged five.

There is evidence linking access to books and early reading with educational attainment and future positive livelihoods. The books initiative is expected to benefit families family where low incomes prevent parents buying books. The Department of Children says there are gaps in vocabulary of children starting school between children from low income and middle/high income families

According to a report from Unicef, Ireland ranks second of 41 wealthy nations in promoting educational equality between children. Nonetheless, despite positive findings, the review found “vulnerable groups” are still in danger of being left behind. Results for Ireland reveal that inequality in education among children decreases as they move from early childhood education to primary school and eventually on to secondary school. However, with one in 10 students not reaching basic proficiency in reading by secondary school, there are still gaps. Ms Zappone’s officials want funding to address these.

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