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Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Childhood Development Initiative’s Doodle Den Literacy Programme

Resource type: Research Report

Centre for Effective Education at Queen’s University Belfast |

An after-school literacy programme that employs engaging activities and involves parents is an effective approach to bolster the reading and writing skills of disadvantaged children. The Doodle Den programme also made a positive impact on improving concentration and reducing problem behaviours in school, according to findings from the randomised controlled evaluation conducted by the Centre for Effective Education at Queen’s University Belfast.

Doodle Den, a literacy programme aimed at five and six year old children, was created by the Childhood Development Initiative, an Atlantic grantee.

The Situation

Literacy is vital for children to succeed in school and later life. Children who fail to gain literacy skills when they are young are unlikely to catch up later. Learning to read and write can be especially difficult for children from disadvantaged areas because of poverty, poor health and other factors.

The Work

The Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) works in Tallaght West, an area composed of four communities in Dublin with high unemployment and poverty. Doodle Den is part of a wider 10-year strategy that CDI began implementing in 2007 to improve the health, safety and learning of children living in Tallaght West.

CDI created Doodle Den based on findings from effective literacy programmes. The after-school programme—three days per week for 1.5 hours each session—takes place over 36 weeks. Seven groups of children, ages 5 and 6 (15 in each group), participated over three cohorts. The programme’s distinctive characteristics include:

  • Use of youth workers and teachers to co-teach the curriculum. This approach draws interactive practices from youth work and instructional skills from teaching.
  • Inclusion of a range of fun activities to engage children and enhance their literacy skills. Activities include games, drama, art, music and movement. Children also receive a healthy snack at the start of each session.
  • Participation of parents. Parents attend sessions to inform them about Doodle Den, encourage them to use the library with their children and receive tips to support their children’s reading and writing at home. 
A look at how the Doodle Den programme works and the impact it is making on children, parents and schools.
“Including parents in their children’s work changes the parents’ attitudes towards school. They see the value of learning and it increases the interaction between teachers and parents. It’s a general trend here that parents are becoming more involved in learning in school. Doodle Den does that.”

– Principal

The Findings

Between 2008 and 2011, evaluators conducted a randomised controlled trial in which some 464 children and 197 parents participated. The evaluators also collected 472 assessments from teachers. Researchers from the Centre for Effective Services at Queen’s University Belfast noted the following key findings:

  • Doodle Den made a real and discernible change in children’s literacy abilities. Children particularly improved in comprehension of word choice, sentence structure and word recognition.
  • The programme also appeared to help improve concentration and reduce problem behaviours in school, particularly among boys. The evaluation found increased family library activity and children reading at home among participants as well.
  • Some issues arose over implementation and fidelity. In particular, participants raised concerns about overcrowding of activities in the curriculum and a need for clarification of roles between youth workers and teachers.
  • Given the strong evidence of the proven effectiveness of Doodle Den, the Childhood Development Initiative should be encouraged to develop, disseminate and promote the expansion of this programme.

Next Steps 

Following the evaluation findings, Atlantic and the Irish government provided funding in September 2012 for an additional year in Tallaght and to support the extension of the programme to three new sites in Limerick. Doodle Den is now being delivered through The School Completion Programme, and discussions are also taking place with other potential providers.

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Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) is an Atlantic grantee.