US country singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton is launching Story Starters, a new volunteer-led programme designed to help nursery children become ready to read.
The programme provides one-to-one language and communication support to early years’ children and is a new 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) which aims to give children the support they need to develop their language and reading skills.
Story Starters is being launched at Coram Campus in Bloomsbury, London, where a film featuring Parton will be shown for the first time. Children’s author and illustrator Sophy Henn will also be attending and engaging in a storytelling and drawing session for local children.
Beanstalk is now looking for volunteers to become Story Starters in pre-schools and nurseries across many areas of England. Story Starter volunteers will visit children twice a week and support three children for 20 minutes each.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will provide every Story Starter child with professionally-selected, age-appropriate books. These books will be sent directly to both the early years setting and the home of each Story Starter child, ensuring that they can enjoy the magic of stories at home as well as when they are with their Story Starter.
Kirsteen Watson, UK regional director of the project, said: “The Dollywood Foundation UK has thoroughly enjoyed being part of this exciting new partnership, with a great mix of different professional backgrounds all adding to the development of Story Starters. Most refreshing of all is the pragmatic approach of all partners who are each willing to roll up their sleeves and just give it a go.
"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. We’re looking forward to the next chapter of this story.”
Ginny Lunn, c.e.o. of Beanstalk, added: “Beanstalk is excited to be working with our partners and local nurseries on our new programme Story Starters. 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.”
Dolly Parton's The Imagination Library, which began in 1995, and is supported by Parton’s Dollywood Foundation, also supports a scheme which gives a every child born in Southwark from December 2015 to December 2016 a free book every month from birth until their fifth birthday.