Evaluating the Bookbug programme in Scotland

dogbod2017, blog

Bookbug logo
by Dr Emma Davidson

CRFR Research Fellow Dr Emma Davidson writes about some of the key findings from the recent Evaluation of Bookbug Bags and Bookbug Sessions, carried out by CRFR for the Scottish Book Trust.

A little yellow bug in red dungarees has become a familiar part of Scottish family life. It’s name – and you will likely know this if you have young children – is Bookbug, and it’s the mascot of Scottish Book Trust’s Early Years programme.

The Bookbug programme has been running in its current form since 2010. It entitles all babies and children in Scotland to four free Bookbug Bags as babies, toddlers, at nursery and in Primary 1. Bookbug Sessions – free song and rhyme groups where parents, carers and children can meet, cuddle, read, talk and sing together – are also available in libraries and increasingly other community settings … parent and toddler groups, shopping centres, and even high rise flats!

In the last five years the programme has grown considerably. In 2016-17 Scottish Book Trust and its local and national partners gifted 178,045 Bookbug Bags, delivered 23,670 Bookbug Sessions, and trained 3,543 practitioners. This is a programme that has considerable reach and continues to grow. But what impact has it had on families and on early years professionals in Scotland? Over the last two years, the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships has been evaluating the Bookbug programme to answer these questions.

The evaluation findings can be read in full here, however, in this blog we focus on our survey and interviews with the professionals gifting bags and delivering sessions. Below, we share some of their views on how Bookbug is contributing to early years development across Scotland.

The key message? Bookbug is a model that works.

Overwhelmingly, professionals participating in the evaluation described Bookbug as a high quality, easy to understand programme that had a positive impact on their role, and the people they worked with. Almost all (99%) agreed that Bookbug was beneficial to their organisation, and 73% told us it helped them reach disadvantaged families.

Why were professionals so supportive of Bookbug? One of the main reasons was Bookbug’s model of delivery. Its flexible approach goes at a family’s own pace to support them to develop their own reading practices. As this nursery practitioner told us:

“You don’t want to be in a position where you are treating parents as stupid or telling them what they don’t know. Role modelling means I’m not saying it directly, ‘this is how you read to your child'” (nursery, case study)

Professionals repeatedly referred to Bookbug Bags as a ‘tool’ that helped to enable and nurture quality family reading practices. So rather than focusing on the frequency of reading, or reading a book from start to finish, Bookbug allows practitioners to model dialogic reading practices, which acknowledge the importance of talk surrounding the book sharing experience.

Bookbug Sessions were also praised by professionals for offering multiple benefits to parents and children, including increased knowledge of songs and rhymes; improved speech and language; understanding of social cooperation; supporting social networks and friendship. Perhaps most important was the way in which Bookbug Sessions can build on the benefits provided by Bookbug Bags, by incorporating creativity, physical movement and play into families’ experiences of sharing books, songs and rhymes:

“Those who access the Bookbug Sessions gain huge benefits, but those who just receive the bags but do not attend any song and rhyme sessions have a much diminished benefit.” (early years, professional survey)

Quality gifting experiences and Bookbug sessions not only support high quality early literacy experiences, but by making book sharing active, lively and fun they can support the development of intrinsic reading motivation (that is seeing reading as satisfying and rewarding in itself).

But Bookbug is being delivered in a challenging context …

Our evaluation found that families are more likely to use the books and resources in the Bookbug Bags if those gifting the Bag spend time talking to them about the benefits of sharing books, looking at the contents and sharing a story. We also found that collaborations between sectors (health visitors, libraries, nurseries and third sector organisations) created opportunities for increasing the impact that Bookbug had. Wider role activities (for example, where library staff visited nurseries or community groups on a regular basis) were seen as positive, motivating ways of overcoming the barriers for families seen to be more vulnerable, or less able to access the benefits of Bookbug.

However, the evaluation also found that lack of capacity and resources was placing increasing pressure on staff, and their ability to prioritise Bookbug activities, and consequently on the amount of time they can allocate to quality and consistent gifting and session delivery. We also found that the Bookbug Programme is most effective at a local level where there is strong strategic commitment; visible and adequately resourced leadership through the Bookbug co-ordinator; and a supported, trained and motivated community of Bookbug professionals. Risks occur when the capacity of the Bookbug co-ordinator is under-resourced, or where Bookbug becomes overly dependent on individuals championing the programme.

The greatest issue therefore is not whether the Bookbug programme is capable of supporting Scotland’s families to read, talk, sing and cuddle more, but rather the impact that diminishing resources will have on councils’ ability to deliver the programme at a local level. The key issue moving forward is ensuring all local authorities recognise that Bookbug is making an important contribution to achieving their strategic priorities – and encouraging them to support practitioners in delivering quality gifting and sessions in their area.

Want to find out more?

The full evaluation report (and executive summary) is available from the Scottish Book Trust here.

If you are a practitioner and want to get involved in Bookbug training, email bookbug@scottishbooktrust.com

Queries about the evaluation can be directed to the study manager, Dr Emma Davidson on 0131 651 1651 (e.c.davidson@ed.ac.uk).

About the Author

Dr Emma Davidson is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Sociology, based at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. Her ongoing research is exploring the social and community role of public libraries in Scotland.