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Caroline’s Story: How Early Literacy Programme Helped Her Children

Resource type: Grantee Story

“The first time I went to Storysacks®, me and the other parents were read to with squeaky voices and loud noises – the way we were supposed to be reading to our kids! When we were read to like that, we understood.”

— Caroline Walker, mother of four, in the Ballymun area of Dublin

“We don’t just hug the books, we kiss the books and we smell them as well!”

— Lana McCarthy, family and community literacy development officer, youngballymun

At Storysacks® classes, parents learn how to make reading fun and instil a love of books in their children. Storysacks is a language and literacy development programme facilitated by youngballymun, an organisation that is working to improve learning and physical and mental well-being for children in Ballymun, a socially disadvantaged area of Dublin, where many families live on low incomes.

During sessions, each parent traces the cover of the chosen book onto a bag. They fill the bags with handmade toys, puppets, masks of characters and other objects that help the books come to life when they are reading to their children.

Lana describes how Storysacks helps build parent confidence and competence:

A lot of the parents had bad school experiences, so we create a fun atmosphere and help them want more and actively seek more for themselves. It comes down to: if you enjoy reading the book, think of how much your children will enjoy it, too.

Caroline, a mother of four, reflects on why she thinks Storysacks “is the best thing I ever did:”

My four year old has severe speech problems because he has a hearing problem. But, because of all our reading together, he is advanced in his knowledge of words. In fact, the speech therapist was shocked at the depth of his vocabulary. 

Originally, we were told he shouldn’t go to school this year, but we were told go ahead, send him to school – but we have to keep up doing what we are doing. Because whatever it is we’re doing, we’re doing it right. And whatever we’re doing is what youngballymun is telling us. 

Now, all my kids will pick reading over going on the computer!

Storysacks is one part of youngballymun’s Write Minded programmes that also include Breakfast Buddies for parents. Write-Minded is designed to provide a balanced literacy framework, with equal emphasis on oral language, reading, fluency, reading comprehension and writing. Eleanor McClorey, chief executive of youngballymun, explains:

Our strategy of intervening early in a child’s life really reduces the challenges and risks to children’s learning and development. If the whole school and community implement this intervention, will child literacy improve? The early evidence looks promising. Our early evaluations are showing increases in children’s literacy scores and decreases in parental stress and depression.

Lana recalls the time when she knew the Storysacks programme was having a profound, community-wide impact:

Neil Griffiths is the English guy who created the Storysacks programme, and he spoke at a Breakfast Buddies for Ballymun parents about how important it is to read to your child, and how to do it. He got a standing ovation! To have parents stand up and applaud a man who is telling them to read to their children is a fabulous testimony to what we are doing here in Ballymun…. One parent said to me, ‘I will never read a book in the same way again.’

I tell you, now, you’re walking down the streets of Ballymun, everybody is hugging a book!

youngballymun is one of several grantees of the Children & Youth Programme in the Republic of Ireland that have a track record of improving outcomes for young children and their families. youngballymun received funding from Atlantic through a re-grant from the Ballymun Partnership.


Learn More

> Visit

Evaluation of Write-Minded
Executive Summary: Evaluation of Write Minded (PDF)
An Economic Appraisal of the youngballymun initiative
Economic Appraisal of the youngballymun Initiative (PDF)

> Watch and share Caroline’s story on YouTube
Caroline's Story 

Related Resources


Prevention and Early Intervention

Global Impact:

Republic of Ireland