‘Children have learned to read the calendar so they know when their next book comes’

World Literacy Day: It can be very difficult to find the time and space to give attention and quiet time to your child

One in six adults in Ireland struggle with reading, while one in four struggle with maths.

On World Literacy Day (Friday, September 8th), these are statistics that Marian Quinn, CEO of the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) is particularly conscious of. The non-profit organisation, which is based in Dublin 24, has “a suite of literacy interventions that go from birth to eight years old”, Quinn explains. “The reason that we have a suite of literacy programmes is that there is a wealth of evidence that indicates the value of reading, enjoying reading, having books in the home and spending time reading together.

“The research shows that doing all those things improves the child’s educational trajectory, their likely educational outcome. It decreases the chance of poverty for the child in later life. And it improves the quality of the relationship between the parent and the child.”

Quinn says people often think you can’t read with children until they are older, but that there is benefit in reading with children from birth. “There is lots of research which shows that disadvantaged communities have poorer educational outcomes and children starting school in communities that are affected by poverty have a smaller range of words. Their comprehension is less, so they start off at a disadvantage. Our programme starts from birth because we want to provide supports from the outset.”


The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is one of the four literacy programmes we have,” Quinn explains. “Children from Dublin 24 can be registered from birth and once they’re registered, they get a book delivered to their home, once a month until their fifth birthday. What’s really special is it comes with the child’s name on the outside packaging.

“We have lots of parents telling us their children have learned to read the calendar so they know how many days it will be until their next book comes.

“A lot of parents are very, very stressed. Post Covid, we are seeing young children with social anxiety. Parents are very stressed, lots of juggling going on. Often parents are very stressed about the potential for becoming homeless. If they aren’t in secure accommodation then I think that threat of losing your home is very real for a lot of families. Parenting is tough for any of us at any given time, but when you’ve all of those additional things going on it can be very difficult to find the time and space to give attention and quiet time to your child.

“And reading a book, and you don’t have to read it, it’s about talking about the colours and the pictures and what’s happening in the picture, and asking the child what they think is going on in the book – that’s really valuable time for everybody.”

A new literacy campaign from An Post, Unlocking Life, aims to help break the cycle of literacy problems to access more opportunities in life. It hopes to raise awareness of reading and writing issues among adults and children and to support the work of those organisations, including the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, dedicated to addressing the challenge.

More than 5,000 children in the Dublin 24 area, receive a free book every month. Quinn says. “We use the access that we have to try and encourage parents to really make sure it’s part of the family time to sit and spend time with a book”.

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family