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US country singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton launched Story Starters at Coram Campus in London today, a volunteer-led programme designed to give nursery children the essential skills to start primary school ready to read.
Story Starters provides one-to-one language and communication support to early years’ children and is a collaborative project between national children’s literacy charity Beanstalk, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and LuCid (The ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development).
The project, which has been funded until March 2019 by the People’s Postcode Lottery, is currently operating in Liverpool and Cheshire, and over the next month will launch in areas across the North East, North West, South West, East and West Midlands, Kent, Suffolk and Yorkshire.
Commenting on the programme, Dolly Parton said: “Beanstalk and my Imagination Library have joined together to launch a special program which will help children become ready to read and ready to learn. We call it Story Starters. We send books to children and our caring volunteers work one-to-one with the children to give them the extra support they need with their reading.”
Around 600 Story Starter volunteers provide help with reading to 1,800 three- to five-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds in nurseries across England.
Children receive two 20-minute one-to-one sessions a week, as well as a specially selected book delivered to their home each month.
Volunteers receive specialist training on delivering sessions which are designed to be fun and interactive with the aim of boosting language development and literacy skills.
Kirsteen Watson, UK regional director of the project, said: “Ultimately, we’re working together to give children the gift of reading for pleasure. We know that our monthly book deliveries get children excited about books from a young age and with volunteers helping children alongside their parents/carers at home, this will help boost children’s language development even more.”
According to Beanstalk, child illiteracy is a persistent problem both nationally and locally. Just under 60 per cent of children start primary school already behind in their reading, and last year, 34 per cent left school unable to read to the required level. These children who start behind are considered ‘at risk’ of staying behind for life.
Ginny Lunn, chief executive officer of Beanstalk, added: “We know how important it is for children in the early years of their education to receive support with their language development, as this enables them to start primary school ready to read and able to thrive throughout their lives.
“We are asking for people to come forward as volunteers now so they can be trained as Story Starters this term. As a Beanstalk reading helper myself, I know you’ll find it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done so do join us.”
For more information on Story Starters visit: www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/story-starters