In English-speaking countries, story hour is part of the popular jargon. Millions have grown up on stories read aloud by an adult at the local library or bookstore. Conveying the term’s meaning in Bulgarian would require some explanation, though, as story hour is still a relatively unfamiliar practice in Bulgaria.
A longtime grantee of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the Bulgarian Library and Information Association (BLIA), is trying to change that. Story hour is one of the many time-tested ways it uses to promote individual achievement through early exposure to books and reading.
In 2019, the association raised more than 10,000 Bulgarian levs (about $5,600) as part of its efforts to stimulate early childhood reading in Bulgaria. This allowed it to purchase nearly 3,000 books and other educational materials for 14 libraries in low-income and underserved neighborhoods across Bulgaria. The funds were raised through the Bulgaria Gives platform and the crowdfunding site GlobalGiving. Bulgarians living in the United States and Europe contributed to the fundraiser after learning about it through ABF and the Bulgarian Venture Capital Association’s RE:TURN initiative. Support also came from the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, which donated 860 new books.
The donations have enriched the collections of 14 frequently visited libraries in small towns and villages across Bulgaria and will help them develop programs to stimulate reading among 1–6-year-olds. These include organizing readings of children’s books to both children and their parents and educating parents about the benefits of early childhood reading and training them how to read to their children at home. The association’s carefully prepared guides for home and group reading will aid parents and librarians in starting their own story hour traditions.
There is multiple evidence that exposure to books from as early as the first year of life has considerable benefits. Reading out loud to children supports their social, emotional, and cognitive development. Not only do children develop their vocabulary and speaking skills, but engagement with books also promotes learning and improves academic results later in life. Last but not least, reading together is a great way for parents and children to bond.
Libraries are an important part of education and community building, and since 2010 ABF has supported the association’s efforts to make Bulgarian libraries more responsive to the needs of their communities. BLIA provides consulting, organizes trainings, conferences, and seminars, and publishes reports, newsletters, and reading guides as part of its mission to promote lifelong learning and enhance Bulgaria’s library and information services.
The association’s previous projects in early childhood development include Magic Room, developed with support from the Goethe Institute and Raiffeisen Bank. Thanks to the project, ten Bulgarian libraries acquired “magic rooms,” specially designated spaces in libraries where children get acquainted with the magic of books and reading.
Help Bulgarian preschoolers fall in love with reading by supporting the Bulgarian Library and Information Association’s work.