Two thirds of the families that received one of the Book Gift campaign’s book bags at a maternal and child health care clinic are reading more than before, according to the latest impact survey. All of the public health nurses involved believe that the book bags encourage families to read. The goal of the Book Gift campaign’s book bag is to ensure equal opportunities for reading in all families with babies and to support children’s language development by encouraging parents to read regularly to their children.
The Book Gift campaign’s book bags were distributed to all children in Finland born between 2019 – 2021 during their visits to maternal and child health care clinics. The book bags were distributed to families with babies in their first year of life, and the goal is to increase early reading in families with babies. Research has shown that reading out loud has many positive effects on children’s language development and their preparedness to learn, as well as on the well-being of the whole family.
The outcomes of the Book Gift campaign’s book bags have been analyzed with impact surveys. The impact survey conducted in October 2021 had 770 parent respondents who had children under the age of three and received a book bag. 220 public health nurses also responded to the survey.
Reading increased in families
Of the families that received a Book Gift campaign book bag, 63% said the book bag increased reading at home. Of these families, 27% said they first began reading with their children when they received the book bag, and 36% of families said they read more than usual thanks to the book bag.
Over half of the families had read the books in the book bag over 10 times, and a fifth of the families said they had read the books over 20 times.
How has the Book Gift campaign’s book bag affected reading in your family? 774 answers
The book bag has not affected the amount of time spent reading 36%
We have read more than usual after receiving the book bag 36%
We began reading out loud thanks to the book bag 27%
I don’t know 1%
We have read less than usual 0
Families are now reading every day
The families that first began reading when they received the book bag have also made reading a regular part of their daily lives: 77% of families said they were now reading at least once a day. This change is noteworthy, because of all of the families that received a book bag, 64% said they read every day.
Of the families that began reading thanks to the book bag, the majority said that they had read the books in the book bag more than 10 times, and a third said they had read the books over 20 times. So the book bag has had an impact especially on those families who otherwise would not have started reading.
Families who began reading after receiving the book bag also have less books at home; 24% of families said they only had five or fewer children’s books at home. Of all of the families who received book bags, this is the case in 18% of families.
The books in the Book Gift campaign’s book bag are the only children’s books in 5% of the families who received book bags. This would mean about 2,500 families with children, relative to the entire age group.
How many times a week do you read aloud to your child? 774 answers
Several times a day 25,2%
Once a day 38,6%
Several times a week 27,3%
Once a week 5,3%
Not at all 0,4%
Reading at bedtime is the most popular time to read, but in the families with the Book Gift campaign’s book bag, reading takes place during many different times of the day. The goal of the book bag is to make reading a natural part of everyday life at home, and families are encouraged to find the best moments for reading with the materials provided in the book bag.
According to parents, the most important reasons for reading are to increase their child’s vocabulary, as well as the calming effect that comes from time spent reading together. Based on the open-ended answers, the parents who received the book bag recognize the importance of reading for their child’s development.
Families who received the book bag also hope to receive further support and information about the importance of reading from their maternal and child health care clinics in the future. Over half of families hope to receive appropriate books for their child, and just under half of parents hope to receive information on the benefits of reading. 92% of families hope that the Book Gift campaign’s book bags will be distributed at maternal and child health care clinics in the future as well.
What kind of support would you like to support and encourage reading? You can choose one or more answers. 915 answers
I would like to receive appropriate books from my maternal and child health care clinic 57%
I would like to be told about the benefits of reading at my maternal and child health care clinic 43%
I would like help choosing books at the library 22%
I need help with reading difficulties/dyslexia 17%
I would like help choosing books at the bookstore 12%
Something else, what: 6%
Do you think the Book Gift campaign’s book bags should also be distributed at maternal and child health care clinics in the future? 766 answers
Yes (the contents and format can be developed in the future) 92%
I don’t know 3%
Public health nurses are worried about children’s language development
220 public health nurses who distributed the Book Gift campaign’s book bags answered the impact survey. Up to 47% feel that children’s language development has declined somewhat or very noticeably in recent years. 42% of respondents said they are concerned about children’s language development.
How has language development in children changed? 225 answers
It has clearly improved 0%
It has slightly improved 14%
It has stayed the same 38%
It has declined slightly 43%
It has clearly declined 4%
Are you concerned about children’s language development? Choose on a scale from 1 – 5 (1=not at all worried…5=very worried).
In the open-ended responses provided by the public health nurses, concerns about speech delays were especially prominent:
“Children browsing smart devices certainly doesn’t promote speech development versus reading.”
“Language skills are poorer, and there’s less speech production.”
“I do many more referrals for speech therapists than I have before.”
“Their vocabulary is smaller, and they talk less.”
“Speech delays, errors in pronunciation and substitutions, impaired language comprehension.”
“In just a few years, I have seen changes in children’s speech production for the worse. Their speech is unclear, and phonemes are missing. Day care centers are now more frequently in touch about speech issues.”
Public health nurses are well aware of the effects of reading on a child’s linguistic development and, more broadly, on the well-being of the entire family. That is why all nurses believe that the Book Gift campaign’s book bags encourage reading in families, and all respondents would like to continue distributing book bags in the future as well. More than half of the respondents said they would also like to increase their own knowledge and receive more information about the importance of reading.
Do you feel that the Book Gift campaign’s book bag encourages families who receive it to read to their children? 216 answers
I don’t know 0%
Do you think the distribution of the Book Gift campaign’s book bag should also be made possible in the future? 217 answers
Yes (the contents and format can be developed in the future) 100%
I don’t know 0%
If you have distributed book bags, please rate the Book Gift campaign’s book bag on a scale from 0-10, 10 being best
Parents need support in their reading habits
Research shows that a child’s first years of life are critically important when it comes to developing reading and language skills. Babies who are read to experience huge benefits in brain development and learning later on.
Early reading also prevents inequality in reading ability. Children who have had early experiences with reading are better equipped to start school. Among individual hobbies, reading has the greatest effect on a child’s language development, a benefit that puts children ahead of their peers who aren’t read to by almost a year in terms of school readiness. Many studies show that reading is a hobby particularly among families with a higher education. That is exactly why it is important to support maternal and child health care clinics in their efforts to promote reading, since they aim to reach out equally to everyone.
The Book Gift campaign
The Book Gift program’s goal is to offer equal opportunities for early reading in all families with babies in Finland. The research company Innolink has devised impact surveys to study the effects of the book bags on families’ reading habits for the three-year duration of the campaign.
The Book Gift Campaign 2019 – 2021 has been prepared and carried out with funding provided by the Finnish Cultural Foundation in the amount of 1.2 million euros. The Finnish Parliament has provided an additional 150,000 euros in funding.
A diverse group of experts from different fields worked together on the contents of the book bag. They included children’s book writers, illustrators, researchers, librarians, and social workers. Tuovi Hakulin, an expert on maternal and child health care clinics and THL’s head researcher, is a key partner.
The book bag is available in Finnish, Swedish, Northern Sami, Inari Sami, Skolt Sami, Russian, Estonian, Arabic, and Somali.
The Book Gift book bag is available in all Finnish municipalities. 150,000 book bags will be distributed in 2019-2021.