Booktime – Page-turning learning

Written by: HTU | Published:

As pastimes go, reading has to compete hard for children’s attention these days, but research suggests that the gift of a book still has the power to excite. Harriet Weaving explains

Most teachers recognise the various benefits of reading for pleasure, and there is a growing body of evidence in support of this. But promoting this message to children and families is something that is often difficult.

One initiative aimed at encouraging reading for pleasure is Booktime. Launched in 2006, the Booktime programme, run by Booktrust and Pearson, aims to provide a free pack containing two books for every reception-aged child in England and Wales.

You may remember receiving your free Booktime packs last year, containing The Tale of a Naughty Little Rabbit. Schools in England also received Tim’s Din in their book packs while schools in Wales received Ty Bach Twt I Miss Trwyn Smwt.

The new Booktime titles for 2013/14 are But Excuse Me That is My Book, based on the original Charlie and Lola stories from Lauren Child, and Tom’s Mad Mop, from the Bug Club series by Pearson UK (pictured, below).

Booktime’s purpose is to promote the pleasure of books, and involve parents and carers in reading aloud with their children. The packs are intended for children to share and enjoy with their family and friends, to encourage families to have fun reading together. The programme aims to support, enable and encourage reading at an important transition stage in a child’s learning and development.

Booktrust recently commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to conduct an evaluation of the Booktime programme in England. The research involved an online survey and telephone interviews with a variety of staff within primary schools – reception teachers, headteachers, assistant/deputy headteachers, literacy co-ordinators and Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) leaders/managers. A total of 1,656 respondents completed the online survey and NFER carried out 20 telephone interviews.



What do schools think of Booktime?

Feedback from schools about the books provided by Booktime was overwhelmingly positive – the vast majority of reception teachers, literacy co-ordinators and EYFS leaders/managers either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the titles were appropriate, attractive and generated excitement among children.

Schools who had already given out the Booktime packs were asked to indicate how successful they felt Booktime had been in their school. The success ratings were very high – 99 per cent thought that Booktime had some level of success in their school. The majority rated Booktime as “highly successful” (31 per cent) or “successful” (53 per cent), and just one per cent rated the programme as “unsuccessful”.

The sense of excitement generated in schools by the Booktime programme came through strongly, illustrated neatly by this comment from one headteacher: “We always put one of the book bags at the front of the class one morning and make lots of guesses why it is there and what could be in it. By the time we peep in the bag we are all nearly bursting!”

When those who had already given out the Booktime packs were asked about the impact of the scheme, the most commonly cited benefits were “increased children’s enjoyment of reading” (mentioned by 66 per cent), and “increased frequency of shared reading at home” (mentioned by 50 per cent). Other areas in which respondents perceived Booktime as having an impact included:
• Ownership of books.
• Providing another opportunity to discuss books.
• Providing support and guidance for parents/carers.
• Promoting a greater understanding of books.
• Longer-term engagement with books.
• Providing a book for every reception child.



What about the other resources?

There are a number of additional Booktime online resources available on the Booktime website, including an interactive storybook, PDF activity sheets and PDF session ideas, as well as online games.

Again, feedback was positive, with those respondents who had already used the Booktime resources rating them very highly, and the vast majority saying the various resources available were enjoyable, appropriate, easy to use and that they enhanced Booktime. Respondents were particularly glowing in their praise of the interactive storybook. One reception teacher commented: “Interactive book was brilliant – this was the highlight. Brought the story to life for children.”

All of these resources are available on the Booktime website and are free to use.



Making the most of your books

Reception teachers, literacy co-ordinators and EYFS leaders/managers were asked how they distributed the Booktime book packs to their reception children. The most frequently used method was for the Booktime book packs to be given out after sharing one or both of the books (70 per cent).

Interestingly, further analysis shows that respondents who indicated that they had given the Booktime books out after sharing them as a class more commonly reported high impact and a wide range of benefits, including:
• Increased enjoyment of reading.
• Communication and language development.
• Personal, social and emotional development.
• Literacy skills.
• Supporting children and families through transition to primary school.

This suggests that schools that “made the most” of Booktime (by giving out the books after sharing as a class) were more likely to report areas of impact relating to children’s social and skill development.

It should be noted that this analysis highlights an association between these survey responses, but does not identify how they are associated nor necessarily indicates a causal relationship. Further information on this analysis is included in the full research report.

Several teachers spoke in the interviews about events they had held with parents and carers in their schools to introduce the Booktime books and speak about the importance of reading for pleasure. The research also highlighted many examples of schools linking the Booktime books to other curriculum activities.



A whole-school reading culture

The schools involved in the research recognised the value in engaging parents/carers in their child’s reading. For example, the majority considered communicating various messages to parents and carers about the importance of reading for pleasure as “important” or “very important”.

Our study found that more than 90 per cent of primary schools surveyed had either a school library or other designated reading area/book corner in each classroom. Also, the majority of respondents (87 per cent) reported that creating a whole-school reading culture was a priority within their school’s aims and policies.



Challenges and barriers

Although most schools prioritised reading for pleasure, the research also found that many teachers perceive a range of challenges and barriers to supporting reading for pleasure in their schools.

The most common challenge reported was “difficulty engaging with parents and carers”, which was mentioned by 43 per cent of respondents. This also came through in the interview feedback as something that schools found challenging.

Other commonly mentioned challenges were “lack of resources” (reported as a challenge by 29 per cent of respondents) and “lack of time” (reported by 28 per cent).

Reception teachers, literacy co-ordinators and EYFS leaders/managers were asked what barriers prevent them from dedicating time to books and reading for pleasure in the classroom. The most common responses were related to time – other curriculum requirements taking up more time (44 per cent) and a lack of time generally (36 per cent). However, over a third had not encountered any barriers at all.



No better gift than a book?

Our research found that Booktime is a well-liked and much-respected programme among the schools involved in the evaluation. Perceptions of the Booktime books for 2012/13 were very positive, and the books are well-used by schools.

“There is no better gift than a book,” remarked one teacher. “Booktime is brilliant and fantastic and I hope it continues,” enthused another.

Reading for pleasure is seen as a high priority in schools, but many schools encounter barriers to supporting this, such as lack of time and difficulties in engaging with parents and carers.

Booktime can offer an opportunity for schools to discuss books and reading for pleasure with their pupils and parents and carers. The free books and resources can help your school to highlight the value of sharing books and to discuss the ways in which parents and carers can help children to develop positive attitudes towards reading, as well as supporting their literacy skills.

The programme may help to reinforce existing school efforts to promote a whole-school reading culture: “It raises awareness of reading – something the school is always striving to do,” added one reception teacher.

The Booktime website has lots of suggestions for making the most of Booktime in schools; ranging from resources to use in the classroom and suggestions on working with your local library, to ideas for communicating with parents and carers about the programme and about the importance of reading for pleasure.

The importance of reading for pleasure is becoming more widely recognised and this research provides evidence of schools using the Booktime books and resources in innovative ways to help promote this message and build a love of reading in children.



• Harriet Weaving is a research manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Further information
• The full evaluation report, Evaluation of Booktime in England 2012-2013, is freely downloadable from the NFER website at www.nfer.ac.uk/btsh.
• To find out more about Booktime or to access the Booktime resources, visit www.booktime.org.uk.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.


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