Free book project gets kids reading


Bookbabies encourages parents to read with their children from a very early age

Study shows project’s value

A recent evaluation demonstrated the value of the Boekbabys (Bookbabies) project, which uses free books and reading advice to encourage young parents to bring their kids into contact with books from the age of six months.

The organising Stichting Lezen (Reading Foundation) is looking to involve more municipalities and to make it easier to visit libraries and explore reading, especially for underprivileged families.

For almost a decade, the Bookbabies project has been providing young families with two packages containing several books: one when their baby reaches the age of six months and one when the child is 15 months old. The initiative is co-ordinated by Stichting Lezen, with family services agency Kind en Gezin (Child and Family) and Locus – a support point for cultural centres like libraries. Bookbabies is supported by the government of Flanders and operates in 76 municipalities all over the region. 

“When a child is six months old, the parents receive a free package of books at Kind en Gezin’s consultation bureau,” explains Els Michielsen, co-ordinator of the project at Stichting Lezen. “When the toddler is 15 months old, the parents receive an invitation to collect a second free package at their local library. We hope to encourage them to gradually explore a broader range of books.”

The books included in the packages are adapted to the specific needs of the babies and toddlers, from colourful picture books to adventure stories, including children’s verses and drawings. For babies, Stichting Lezen developed a special knisperboek (rustle book) that is fun to play with and features pictures of simple things like animals. Other picture books explain practical activities to todllers, like taking a bath.

The two packages also come with a brochure, which encourage parents to tell stories in a lively way and encourage children to accompany them by clapping their hands and singing the verses. “Reading a book can help develop a child’s cognitive, social and emotional skills,” says Tania Van Acker of the Stichting Lezen team. “But our main goal is to instil a love for reading and strengthen the relationship between parents and their children.”

A real impact

The positive impact of the Bookbabies project was confirmed by a recent study by the Centre for Language and Education at the University of Leuven: It found that 90% of the parents surveyed received the baby package and 62.5% of them picked up the toddler package at the library. Those in a lower socio-economic bracket and non-Dutch-speakers were slightly less inclined to collect the books. 

The books helped the children develop language skills and stimulated their creativity

- Seda Virabian

With the support of Bpost’s Foundation for Literacy, Stichting Lezen and Kind en Gezin are also working on the Boekenboot (Bookboat) project for disadvantaged families. Anyone who helps underprivileged parents educate and care for their young children can receive training to bring the families into contact with books.

In the future, Stichting Lezen would like to include other organisations, like social aid agencies and childcare initiatives, to reach more families. A pilot project in Limburg is already showing positive results in this respect. “We could also train the staff at libraries to attract more families, especially those with a disadvantaged background,” says Van Acker.

One of the 15,420 families that have so far made use of the book packages is that of 27-year-old Seda Virabian, her daughter Armine, six, and son Razmik, three, from Kortrijk in West Flanders. Virabian, who has Armenian roots, says reading helped her to expand her own Dutch vocabulary and she was therefore convinced about the positive effects of the Bookbabies project on her children.

“I think the books helped them to develop their language skills, both in Dutch and Armenian, and they stimulated their creativity,” she says. “The kids mostly asked me themselves to read to them, often in bed just before going to sleep, which made that a calm moment of togetherness at the end of busy days.”


Bookbabies project uses free books to get parents reading with their kids from a very early age

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