The Reading for Children (RfC) programme responds to the fact that being read to as a child is one of the strongest predictors of later academic success. All over the world, too many children leave primary school unable to read and write fluently. What happens in school is important, but if we wait to tackle the problem until children are in school, it is too late. Children who have been read to before they go to school, and whose family members continue to read to them, are shown to outperform those who have not had such opportunities.
Initially launched as a small pilot in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2007, the programme’s success has made it today an essential component of early childhood development and school improvement in 14 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Syria and Portugal. Nearly 100’000 children (ages 2-12 years) and over 65’000 parents/caregivers borrowed books in 2014. The Network is also exploring the establishment of mini-libraries within and around AKFED project companies such as Filtisac in Côte d’Ivoire and the Serena Hotels in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Reading for Children seeks to build a love of reading and learning from an early age by:
- Establishing mini-libraries – A tin trunk, cupboard, wooden box or bag filled with simple, illustrated, culturally-relevant, age-appropriate storybooks. Mini-libraries can be situated in preschools, schools, people’s homes, health facilities, factories, or as part of community-based savings groups or adult literacy groups.
- Identifying and training a motivated librarian – A school teacher, nurse, student, group member, volunteer, etc.
- Conducting workshops for parents/caregivers/other family members which build their skills and confidence in interacting with their children, telling stories and making reading with their children an enjoyable experience.
The Reading for Children programme has numerous benefits for children, parents/caregivers, families and communities. Here are just a few:
- Increased access to age-appropriate books before entering school
- Improved learning outcomes in primary school (Improving Reading Achievement in the Kyrgyz Republic)
- Older children (primary and secondary) also enjoying the books with each other and their younger siblings
Benefits for parents/caregivers:
- Better understanding of the importance of reading to and with young children
- More confident, interested and able to support their children’s learning
- Improved relationships with their children from an early age
- More engaged fathers
- Illiterate or low-literate parents/caregivers motivated to learn how to read and write
Benefits for the family and community:
- Reading becomes a regular family activity and in urban areas a replacement for watching television or playing video games
- Oral stories from the local culture are revived
- Storytelling and reading becomes part of community events (e.g., puppet shows, reading campaigns, storytelling sessions with elders in the community)
Reading for Children is simple, flexible and beneficial for the entire family. It was originally a key component of early childhood initiatives. But very early on, the communities began to notice the benefits for older siblings as well as parents and caregivers. The libraries are now more widely used by older children and adults to reinforce their own literacy skills. Adults, particularly mothers and grandmothers, are demanding literacy classes. Older siblings are often seen reading with younger children, being read to by a parent or caregiver, and reading alone. The programme is transforming how family members interact with one other, developing a thirst for books and learning, and nurturing a culture of reading.