Mount Pleasant dad Evan Menyweather and his son Theodore at the dads and bubs session at Mackay library, which is part of the First 5 Forever family literacy program across Queensland.
Mount Pleasant dad Evan Menyweather and his son Theodore at the dads and bubs session at Mackay library, which is part of the First 5 Forever family literacy program across Queensland. Mackay Regional Council

Libraries could be more relevant than ever before

LIBRARIES have long been a place of wonder, learning and even escape but today's technology-focused world risks relegating their relevance to yesteryear.

There is a revolution, though, occurring in libraries across regional Queensland as they aim to make a difference during the most crucial time of a child's development.

The experience of those first five years stays with children forever, says First 5 Forever project co-ordinator Katie Roberts.

Ms Roberts, who co-ordinates the literacy program for the Mackay council, said talking, singing, playing and reading with children could have positive impacts on reading later in life.

She said investing in the early years had benefits far beyond and created support mechanisms children needed later in life.

Her comments come after this paper launched its Fair Go for Our Kids campaign revealing about 30,000 regional children a year do not finish Year 12 - a statistic we hope to change through strong policies promised this election.

The Local Government Association of Queensland says the First 5 Forever family literacy program across the state has given councils and public libraries a unique opportunity to make a collective difference for all children across the state throughout their schooling.

"A shared family experience has a very proven and positive impact on early brain development and that leads to later literacy success," Ms Roberts said.

"We need to be connecting with our communities when children's brains are developing at their fastest.

"Nathan Wallis, a well-known neuroscientist in early childhood development, says the number of words a child learns in their early years has a direct financial impact on their income by age of 32."

Reforming funding to local government was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put community needs first, LGAQ spokesman Craig Johnstone said as he called on both parties to commit $20 million over four years to continue the program.

"Public libraries are answering the call to action on a scale never seen before," he said.

"Libraries have the potential to reach 98 per cent of the population, especially babies and children under five years and their families/carers at a critical time in their life and development."

Mr Johnstone said a comprehensive 2015 evaluation showed 445,000 people attended in-library First 5 Forever activities and 19,000 parent and caregiver toolkits distributed in just one year, the first of the four-year program.


Dads and bubs, at Mackay library, is part of the First 5 Forever family literacy program across Queensland.
Dads and bubs at Mackay library, taking part in the First 5 Forever family literacy program across Queensland. Mackay Regional Council

Mount Pleasant dad Evan Menyweather said: "Setting them up for making those connections between words and items and getting to know different sounds is really important."

With son Theodore reading a book during the dads and bubs group at the Mackay library, the paramedic said he spent time reading books with his eight-month-old who would also listen to music and interact with other children.

"I think the reading is good for comprehension and knowing tones and sentence structures," he said.

"When they are first starting off, it's also about getting familiar with holding a book. Theo makes noises and raises his arms when he gets excited at colourful pictures.

"He was reaching out and mimicking me turning the pages so now I let him turn the pages.

"So it's not just comprehending words, it's actually teaching those fine motor skills and ensuring learning is not just related to technology."

Mr Menyweather said it was vital to have literacy programs for children at a young age, saying his son had gone from sitting to crawling in just the past two weeks as he continually mastered new skills.

"From stationary to crawling, he's making those connections and learning every day and if you don't encourage that or foster that I guess, you'll see a big difference between different children," he said.

"Obviously if we start early and grow that interest here, later down the track it might lead to people staying around a bit longer, realise they can achieve what they want in local areas rather than moving to regional cities."

Pollies allude to funding commitments before polling day

NEITHER the LNP nor Labor will commit to continued funding for the First 5 Forever literacy program at the half-way point of this election campaign.

But both insist there will be education policies announced between now and polling day.

For now, commitments remain vague.

A Labor spokesman said high-quality early childhood education and care services were "critical to building the early literacy, numeracy and social skills that children need to succeed at school and throughout their lives".

He pointed to a Palaszczuk Government commitment to universal kinder access.

"Queensland's overall kindergarten participation rate is now more than 95 per cent - up from 29 per cent in 2008," he said.

An LNP spokesman said his party was committed to "delivering better outcomes for our children and delivering job security into the future".

"We will work ... with the education sector to ensure we have the best programs in place across Queensland to give our children the best start into formal education," he said. - NewsRegional