Beacons of Hope in Romper Suits
An increasing number of people are illiterate. Initiatives such as
"Lesestart," which means "Start Reading," are aiming to change this
by targeting children from an early age.
They are barely a year old, only around 2-and-a half feet
tall (75 cm), and can't even say the word "book." Despite this,
or perhaps precisely because of it, doctors in Germany are giving
parents a "Lesestart" box - a starter set for reading - after
their child's standard 10to12-month check-up, which includes a
picture book, advice on reading aloud and a brochure with
recommended books. The objective of the project launched in 2008 is
to establish reading aloud as an integral part of families'
daily lives as early as possible. This is seen as laying the
foundation for good reading skills and thus for better
opportunities at school and better career prospects. By May 2010,
500,000 parents will have received the free set. Heidelberger
Druckmaschinen AG is one of the project sponsors.
Ms. Bonewitz, you are the spokeswoman in the Family and Daycare
Center Department of Stiftung Lesen in Mainz. Aren't 1 year
olds much too young for books?
Sabine Bonewitz: Obviously, 1 year olds are not yet able to
read, but they can see, smell, touch, and play with books,
literally experiencing them with all their senses. This is the age
when children normally start talking. Reading to them on a regular
basis is a particularly important part of this. It helps their
language acquisition and emotional development and trains their
cognitive skills. It also makes reading a habit. The example
parents can set for their children should not be underestimated.
They need to make reading part and parcel of their daily lives.
When children see their parents reading a newspaper or book, they
want to as well.
Why does an industrialized nation need a project such as this?
Bonewitz: Reading is a key skill in terms of career,
social affluence, and playing a role in society, but many young
people are experiencing difficulties with their reading. Although
school attendance is compulsory, there is a risk that one out of
every five 15 year olds will only achieve only the reading
comprehension of a 7 or 8 year old - or even less. Other
industrialized nations are facing similar situations. Projects such
as "Lesestart" here in Germany, "Bookstart" in the United Kingdom,
and "Read-to-me" in Canada and the U.S. are looking to counter this
trend at a very early stage. They aim to achieve a lasting
improvement in the way young children in all sections of the
population learn to speak and read, with a particular focus on
educationally disadvantaged and migrant families.
Are you already seeing some results?
Bonewitz: A pilot project has been running in Saxony
since 2006. Some 10 percent of the parents interviewed admitted
that they had only started looking at books with their children as
a result of our project. And 30 percent now read books with their
children more often than they used to. These results are
encouraging and justify continuing with the initiative. Further
evidence is provided by the "Bookstart" campaign that has been
running successfully in the United Kingdom for decades. The
children benefiting from the campaign have superior listening
skills when they start school and have much better reading and
writing skills than children of the same age who have not been
involved in the initiative.
The "Lesestart" initiative is aimed at very young children. How
does the foundation intend to encourage older children and young
people to read?
Bonewitz: By making reading fun and entertaining. We know
that popular magazines and "in" topics for their age-group are
particularly successful in getting young people from educationally
disadvantaged backgrounds interested in reading. We are therefore
working with a number of partners to develop educational material
that is really interesting too, for example in the "Zeitschriften
in der Schule" (magazines in school) project. The scheme encourages
students to read by providing four weeks of free access to
magazines. We also have more than 9,000 voluntary readers
throughout Germany, including celebrities. They go to
kindergartens, schools and bookshops, immersing themselves and
their audiences in the wonderful world of books.
These projects get people reading.
"Lesestart" picture book hour with the band Silbermond.
Singer Stefanie and drummer Andreas from the German band
Silbermond entertained children with extracts from the fairytale
"Steinsuppe" (A Stone Soup) by Anais Vaugelade. The 6 to 13 year
olds were very enthusiastic. Not only could they see the stars up
close, they also got to discover the fascinating world of picture
Reading aloud cases for children's homes
This joint initiative by Deutsche Bahn and Stiftung Lesen is
aimed at children and young people who are living in care or who
attend day centers. The "Vorlesekoffer" cases, or Reading Aloud
sets, are packed full of children's books and magazines,
educational games and reading tips, and they aim to boost reading
skills. Young people can find age-appropriate reading material in
the "Bücherkoffer" (book boxes) that form part of the same
initiative. Since 2007, cases have gone to more than 2,000
children's homes and institutions supporting children and young
people in Germany. By the end of 2010, this number should rise to