Bookstart aims to create opportunities for parents and babies to spend happy times together by allowing them to experience the joy of sharing books and providing them a free pack of books.
The opportunities are made by the partnership of people and relevant local organizations, such as library service, health centres, family support centres and local volunteers, during baby health checks at local health centres when all the babies born in a particular area gather together. Bookstart was originally conceived in the UK by a children's book expert, Wendy Cooling, in 1992, and was piloted and is coordinated by an independent charity Booktrust. International interest in Bookstart continues to grow and it is now delivered in many countries.
Bookstart in Japan was launched in 2000 when we had the pilot study in Suginami-ku, Tokyo. There are 1741 local authorities such as cities, towns and villages in Japan and Bookstart is launched by their decision and funded within their budget. Bookstart has attracted many people since then and 950 out of 1741 (about 54.6%) local authorities now run Bookstart at the end of Apr. 2016.
The pack contains two baby books, an advice booklet for parents, a library application card, local information such as a library booklist and useful information on raising children and a bib. All are put in a cotton bag with a sea otter logo on the front. The content of the pack differs from one scheme to another.
In many cases, a librarian or a volunteer member speaks to one family, share books with the baby and hand out a Bookstart pack at baby's either 3-4, 6-7 or 9-10 months old health check. Baby's health check is delivered by local authorities as a public service where all babies who were born there and has reached that age are targeted and gathered in one place.
We believe that one person speaking to one family, instead of a group of 10 families, is the more effective way of handing out a Bookstart pack. In that way, parent(s)/carers will feel that the person is talking‘just to them’, become more attentive and start a conversation.
They also share books with babies when handing out a pack to show parent(s)/carers how enjoyable the time can be. The book-sharing experience at the venue can strongly encourage parent(s)/carers to start it soon at home. Local libraries and parenting support centres are introduced to parent(s)/carers when explaining the contents of the pack and they tell them that they are ready to support and welcome them to the facility.
(Parenting support centre is a public facility where preschoolers can play with quality toys and books and parent(s) can meet other parent(s) and get advice from professionals.)
Two things that we kept in mind when we launched Bookstart in Japan
- We changed Bookstart flexibly according to our situation and arranged it to suit our society.
- We did not change Bookstart because we discovered the universal essence of Bookstart
'Five Important Features of Bookstart', which should not be changed.
1) Bookstart is for sharing books.
Bookstart is not an early education. Bookstart is built on the idea that it is very important for a baby to experience the joy of being together with and hearing the voice of someone who loves him/her most.
2) Bookstart is for every baby.
It’s very important that every single baby receives a free Bookstart pack because they all have the right to own a book which gives them opportunities to be loved by parents/carers with words of affection. In addition, not every family can afford books or even think of buying them, and not every family go to bookshops or libraries.
3) Bookstart is carried out at a baby's health check site where everyone comes, regardless of their interests.
In order to deliver Bookstart packs to every baby, it is very important to set a Bookstart venue that has easy access for every family.
4) Bookstart does not just distribute books but deliver it with experience of sharing books.
It is very important for parents to discover that their little baby can already enjoy books and for them to experience the joy of sharing books with them. We have found that the pack-delivering is one part of Bookstart and showing how to share books with babies is another.
5) Bookstart is a partnership project.
Bookstart is delivered through a multi-agency, public/private partnership. It is very important that Bookstart is free from profit-making purpose, religion and politics. Bookstart is a project run by all those who wish for the happiness of babies.
Bookstart Japan is an independent non-profit organization that administrates the programme in Japan. We have set up a project, 'Bookstart Asian Networking Project', thorough which we aim to share our experience in Japan and contribute to the development of Bookstart around the world.
For more information on Bookstart in Japan or if you wish to have the English version of the Bookstart Handbook (Fourth Edition), which is a guidance for people administrating Bookstart in Japan, please email your name, organization and country.
For more information on Bookstart in the world, please visit the website of Booktrust. http://www.bookstart.org.uk/about-us/bookstart-around-the-world/