By Marc Lambert, CEO, Scottish Book Trust

IF you drop into your local library or community group this week and hear the familiar sounds of The Wheels on the Bus or Ally Bally drifting across the shelves, you’ve probably found yourself in the middle of a Bookbug Session. Run by Scottish Book Trust, with funding from the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative, Bookbug is Scotland’s universal early years book gifting programme, giving every child in Scotland four free bags of books between birth and five, and also running free story, song and rhyme sessions across the country.

This week, Bookbug Week is celebrated across Scotland, with hundreds of special Bookbug Sessions and events taking place in libraries and community venues for pre-school children and their families. The theme is Bookbug’s Friends and we want as many mums, dads and carers as possible to join in and experience the benefits for themselves as well as their children.

Sharing songs, rhymes and stories with children from birth, and in fact, even before they are born has a proven impact on their development. It supports speech, and language and brain development, but also their social and emotional skills. There’s a wealth of research about the importance of rhythm and rhyme in supporting language and pre-literacy skills, but there’s more to Bookbug than books.

A recent evaluation of the impact of Bookbug Sessions found clear evidence in particular of the social benefits for parents and children. Mums and dads shared their positive experiences, partly about their children’s own enjoyment, but also the different ways they had directly benefited themselves. Catriona, a new mum from Oban said: “We love Bookbug. It’s good for a new mum, as it gets you out, without the pressure of sitting and making conversation at playgroup. I have learned new songs to sing with my baby.” Others spoke of the way it helped get them out of the house, and establish routines. A recent study by the Centre for Performance Science also found that group singing sessions for parents and babies helped new mothers suffering with postnatal depression recover faster.

Getting out of the house and meeting other families may sound like an easy thing to do, but it’s easy to forget how daunting even the smallest trip out can be when you are a new parent. That’s why we’re encouraging families to try out Bookbug this week, and also asking people who already come along to Bookbug to bring a friend, or to look out for new people at their local sessions.

We’re also celebrating the wave of new inter-generational Bookbug Sessions, organised by local libraries and community groups and held in care homes or community centres with local elderly people. Young, old and in-between ages have all enjoyed making new friends and finding company, but it has been particularly stimulating for older people who really respond to the interaction with the babies and toddlers. By enabling our youngest children to connect with older members of their community through singing and stories, there are clearly huge benefits for everyone.

Sharing traditional songs and passing them down through the generations is something that can be lost in our modern world, but it’s proving as popular as ever here with both age groups, and that’s why we’re adding more of these to our online Song and Rhyme Library too. Launched last year, it’s a great way for parents, grandparents and carers to learn the songs, rhymes and tunes to try with their children, or get a reminder of the ones sung to them when they were young. We want them to be passed on to today’s toddlers, as the benefits will last not only their lifetime, but their own children’s too.