Mud pits and Mary Poppins book bikes the new face of Queensland libraries

Pizza and Pyjama Story Time at a library in Douglas Shire

Hot off the press this week, the highlights and achievements of First 5 Forever, a family literacy initiative that is delivered through the dynamic network of more than 320 Queensland public libraries and Indigenous Knowledge Centres.

The news is good, with the initiative building strongly in momentum since it started in 2015.

There are numerous lines of research confirming the importance of a child’s early years as the most critical phase of human development. There’s no other time in life when the brain develops faster with as much as 90 per cent happening between birth and five years.

This is the impetus behind First 5 Forever – supporting families to make the most of a vital window when we have an unparalleled opportunity to make a real difference to lives by providing a solid foundation for language and literacy.

It’s about giving Queensland kids the best possible start – and reaching all of them – not just the ones who sit still on the carpet.

In fact, it need not involve carpet at all.

Some of the most memorable First 5 Forever activities are taking place under trees, in dinghies, at the beach or even at the local hardware store. First 5 Forever is proving that imaginative, accessible programming is what busy families want.

Free ‘Splash and Rhyme’ activities hosted by Whitsunday Regional Council Libraries

Inclusivity is another hallmark of the initiative’s success. Libraries across the state are providing welcoming, free activities where everyone in the village is invited – bouncing babies, energetic toddlers, mums, dads, brothers and sisters, foster and step parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles.

The initiative is flexible in its approach to making reading, talking, singing and playing a valued part of raising a child.

It’s also giving families the message that they are their child’s first and most important educator.

Some libraries have turned their children’s area into a connector for communities. A bright and happy place where dads, young parents and families from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds get to meet, sing and enjoy books with their children together.

NAIDOC mother’s group event in Douglas Shire

Dads ‘n’ Bubs Baby Bounce session at Mackay Regional Libraries

Families in Logan were recently invited to play mud soccer, cook in the mud pie bakery, and get seriously dirty while First 5 Forever staff shared the importance of talking, singing, reading and playing with children in the early years.

Logan Dirty Dinosaurs – A free First 5 Forever mud play event hosted by Logan City Council. Photo credit: David O’Connell photography

The same council has also piloted pop-up libraries at three family restaurants. Colourful cushions, balloons and fun activities helping to promote the benefits of early literacy in a relaxed, casual and family-friendly environment.

In the Noosa region, a Mary Poppins-style book bike travels the coastal tracks delivering the joy of books and story time to the delight of local children.

Noosa Libraries’ First 5 Forever book bike

In the small mining town of Collinsville the swimming pool proved the perfect place to learn about a dirty dinosaur, and frog puppets were used to engage babies in singing nursery rhymes and story time at the pop up library.

2016 saw exponential growth in these kinds of outreach events, extending the reach of public libraries and Indigenous Knowledge Centres in a meaningful and practical way and introducing some families to the world of libraries for the very first time.

Library staff around the state are also getting a chance to advance their knowledge of early literacy development through well-received training and workshops.

It’s an initiative with sights set on lifting the fortunes of everyone – not just children but also the communities in which they live.

As the third successful year of First 5 Forever draws to a close, it is important to capitalise on the significant momentum behind this initiative.

  • In 2015 and 2016, $9 million in funding was made available to 72 councils.
  • This program has been embraced by families and library staff all across Queensland from the cape and the outback, along the coast and everywhere in between.
  • Over a million attendances at nearly 50,000 free sessions have been recorded.

For more detail on First 5 Forever highlights from the first two years, download the summary report Investing in Queensland families: A partnership between Local and State Government.