The Unmumsy Mum: 'There are so many children without access to even one book'
- Credit: Rosie Parsons
Sarah Turner, aka The Unmumsy Mum, is a blogger, author and mum to three boys. She lives in Exeter and recently became an Ambassador for UK Reads.
Hoping to give every child the chance to fall in love with reading, the Devon-based initiative is working to get books into the hands of children who need them most.
The programme, launched just six months ago by the World Literacy Foundation, has already reached more than 5,000 children, providing story books and support to schools and parents to encourage budding young bookworms to build a healthy reading habit.
Sarah explains her backing for the project: “I was absolutely heartbroken to learn of the UK’s illiteracy statistics, particularly as reading is such a huge part of home life with our boys.
“We know that having access to books and support opens doors, but across the UK, including here in Devon, there are many children without access to even one book.
“I am passionate to see more children in Devon enjoy a reading routine at home and hope I can help spread the word about the vital work of UK Reads, so more children can discover the joy of escaping into stories.”
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Between the pages of child’s story book, you’re just as likely to find yourself sipping tea with a friendly tiger as hitching a ride through London’s lamp-lit streets on the shoulders of a Big Friendly Giant. Children’s books are truly magical.
However, for almost half a million children in the UK who don’t have a single book of their own, the joy of reading is something they may never discover.
At the core of the UK Reads' mission is a belief that it’s vitally important to nurture a love of reading in children. By not reading early and often, children won’t just miss out on a magnificent cast of colourful storybook characters: reading for pleasure is also the most reliable predictor of a child’s success in later life.
The UK’s official adult literacy rate of 99%+ masks a devastating literacy gap, which traps millions of families in a cycle of poverty.
One study revealed there are more than five million adults in the UK who are ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning they struggle to read and write simple sentences...and making tasks such as writing a job application or reading the back of a medicine packet off limits.
Many adults who struggle to read were raised in homes where their parents received little schooling, had a lack of books at home, and grew up in poverty.
As the cycle repeats itself, children from poorer households are more likely to arrive at primary school with smaller vocabularies. One Stanford University study found that children from the wealthiest households heard 30 million more words than those from the poorest by the age of three.
This has a domino-like effect on reading and performance in school, setting the poorest children up to fail, unless something is done.
It’s here that UK Reads hopes it can make the most difference.
Cranbrook Education Campus, on the outskirts of Exeter, is one of UK Reads’ partner schools. The Campus is already working hard to bridge the attainment gap at the heart of the charity’s mission.
“Typically, 40-45% of our pupils join us with a reading age below their actual age and around 15% are more than 20% below their actual age” says head of English, Di Brown.
Through its reading programme and a canon of carefully selected texts, the Campus hopes to spark a passion for reading in its pupils:
“By the time they leave us, our students will have read at least 20 brilliant, thought-provoking and, hopefully, life-enhancing texts: books that will bring depth, diversity and culture to their lives. Books that encourage them to view the world through others' eyes and bring a greater understanding of the way the world works. Books that will make them lose themselves - and find themselves. Books that will be a pleasure to read” added Di.
Hannah Wooldridge, Librarian at Cranbrook Campus, says: “By UK Reads providing books that pupils can take home as their own, it will hopefully give them an experience of ownership, not just of books themselves but of the whole reading process.”
“Together we are sending the message that books and reading are for everyone and that nobody should be without them.”
Having launched amid the first wave of the pandemic, the charity could not have arrived at a more pressing time for the children it helps.
New research from Oxford University Press reveals that 92% of UK teachers fear lockdown measures have widened the word gap, as children may have read less for pleasure while at home - particularly if their parents aren’t keen readers or home life is complicated.
The charity’s Head of UK, Caroline Burkie says: “We believe that almost a year of disruption to learning will have widened the literacy gap. Despite this, we are still hopeful. Taking steps to support a child’s reading has the power to make a lasting difference to their well-being, hopes and aspirations.”
You can support UK Reads’ latest campaign ‘Before it’s too Late’ by donating or volunteering and help to change a child’s future - one book at a time.
Literacy's life-changing power
Our reading habits as kids can shape who we become as adults - and have far-reaching social consequences, too. Did you know…
16.4% of adults in the UK are functionally illiterate, meaning they struggle to read about unfamiliar topics, including things as ‘everyday’ as new recipes, loan agreements or employment contracts+
Illiteracy costs the UK around £25 billion in welfare and support programs each year – for the UK’s 32.5 million taxpayers, that’s a bill of £773 each*
2/3 men and ¾ women who are functionally illiterate have never had a promotion+
A 2014 study found reading stories with characters from cultures or races different to one’s own helped readers become less judgmental and rely less on stereotypes