Finland’s first book gifting program supported early reading with success
Emmi Jäkkö, Development director, The Finnish Reading Centre
Two thirds of the families that received one of the book gift program’s Lukulahja lapselle book bags at a maternal and child health care clinic are reading more than before, according to the impact survey. All the public health nurses involved believe that the book bags encourage families to read. The goal of the book gift program was 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 program Lukulahja lapselle distributed book bags to all children in Finland born between 2019–2021 via maternal and child health care clinics. The book bag contained a rhyme book to read aloud for a baby, bedtime story book, info material for parents on the importance of reading, rhyme cards for playing and invitation to visit the local library. The book bags were distributed to families with babies in their first year of life, and the goal was to offer equal opportunities for early reading in all families with babies in Finland and to increase early reading.
Lukulahja lapselle is Finland’s first book gifting program. In 2018 The Finnish Reading Center created a concept for a national book bag program. The Finnish Cultural Foundation provided funding for the program in 2019 – 2021, and the Finnish government provided additional funds for the information materials. The book bag was available in Finnish, Swedish, Northern Sami, Inari Sami, Skolt Sami, Russian, Estonian, Arabic, and Somali. It was also available in all Finnish municipalities. Total of 150,000 book bags were be distributed in three years.
The outcomes of the book gift program were evaluated with an impact survey conducted in October 2021. 770 parents who had children under the age of three and received a book bag answered the survey.
Reading increased in families
Of the families that received the book bag, 63% said the book bag increased reading at home. Of these families, nearly half said they first began reading with their children when they received the book bag, and the rest of the families said they read more than usual thanks to the book bag.
Most of the families that first began reading when they received the book bag have also made reading a regular part of their daily lives.
Families who began reading after receiving the book bag also have less books at home; 24% of these families said they only had five or fewer children’s books at home. Of all the families who received book bags, this is the case in 18% of families. The books in the 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.
Reading at bedtime is the most popular time to read, but in the families with the book bag, reading takes place during many different times of the day. The goal of the book bag was to make reading a natural part of everyday life at home, and families were 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 in the survey, 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 program’s book bags will be distributed at maternal and child health care clinics in the future as well.
Public health nurses are worried about children’s language development
220 public health nurses who distributed the book gift program’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.
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 centres 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 program’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.
The book gift program brought together diverse group of experts
Program brought together many literacy stakeholders as it was prepared with a support of a diverse group of experts from different fields who worked together on the contents of the book bag. They included children’s book writers, illustrators, researchers, librarians, and social workers. Tuovi Hakulinen, an expert on maternal and child health care clinics and THL’s head researcher, was a key partner.
Lukulahja lapselle book gift program will continue in 2022 with public funding provided by the parliament of Finland. The Finnish Reading Centre will try to find permanent funding for the program.