On Friday 6th October international superstar and philanthropist Dolly Parton released a new film to launch Story Starters, a new programme that provides one-to-one language and communication support to early years’ children. The programme is designed to ensure that they have the skills to start primary school ready to read.

Story Starters is a new collaborative project between national children’s literacy charity Beanstalk, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and LuCid (The ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development) which aims to give children the support they need to develop their language and reading skills. Research has shown that children who benefit from high-quality support in their early years start school on average three months ahead in their literacy and language skills, compared with children who don’t. The programme has been made possible by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, whose Dream Fund chose Story Starters to receive £1 million in funding in January 2017.

Story Starters is being launched this week at Coram Campus in Bloomsbury, where the film from Dolly Parton will be shown for the first time. Children’s author and illustrator Sophy Henn will also be attending and engaging in a story telling and drawing session for local children.

Beanstalk is now looking for volunteers to become Story Starters in pre-schools and nurseries across many areas of England. Story Starter volunteers will visit children twice a week and support three children for 20 minutes each. The sessions are fun, interactive and hugely beneficial to the children receiving extra support. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will provide every Story Starter child with high-quality, professionally-selected, age-appropriate books. These books will be sent directly to both the early years setting and the home of each Story Starter child, ensuring that they can enjoy the magic of stories at home as well as when they are with their Story Starter.

Kirsteen Watson, UK Regional Director, says “The Dollywood Foundation UK has thoroughly enjoyed being part of this exciting new partnership, with a great mix of different professional backgrounds all adding to the development of ‘Story Starters’. Most refreshing of all is the pragmatic approach of all partners who are each willing to roll up their sleeves and just give it a go! Ultimately, we’re working together to give children the gift of reading for pleasure. We know that our monthly book deliveries get children excited about books from a young age and with volunteers helping children alongside their parents/carers at home, this will help boost children’s language development even more. We’re looking forward to the next chapter of this story.”

Ginny Lunn, CEO of Beanstalk, says “Beanstalk is excited to be working with our partners and local nurseries on our new programme Story Starters. We know how important it is for children in the early years of their education to receive support with their language development, as this enables them to start primary school ready to read and able to thrive throughout their lives. We are asking for people to come forward as volunteers now so they can be trained as Story Starters this term. As a Beanstalk reading helper myself, I know you’ll find it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done so do join us.”

Find out more about becoming a Story Starter volunteer:

You can find out more about becoming a Story Starter by visiting www.storystarters.org.uk, or calling Beanstalk on 0845 450 0301.

About the Story Starters partners

  • Beanstalk (www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk) is a national children’s literacy charity that will recruit, train, and support Story Starter volunteers.
  • Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (http://uk.imaginationlibrary.com/) will provide every Story Starter child with high-quality, professionally-selected, age-appropriate books. These books will be sent directly to both the early years setting and the home of each Story Starter child, ensuring that they can enjoy the magic of stories at home as well as when they are with their Story Starter.
  • LuCiD (www.lucid.ac.uk) is a project based at the University of Liverpool to help transform our understanding of how children learn through language and communication. They will be carrying out the Randomised Control Trial (RCT) on the intervention and will be reporting findings at the end of the two year period of project delivery.

About the launch and video