Bradford Libraries Rhyme Challenge

Bradford Libraries Rhyme Challenge started in 2017 from an idea originating from BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. The challenge is simple. Parents and children are asked to five rhymes together to receive a certificate. In Bradford, the library service produces the challenge and encourages take up with child care settings, toddler groups and libraries across the district. Rhymes are chosen in collaboration with early years groups and then packs are designed, printed and distributed usually from Sept-March. The challenge is currently funded by Children’s Services Early Help & Prevention

The challenge

Significant speech, communication, and language needs (SCLN) are not unique to Bradford, however current figures from Public Health show that the figures for children achieving expected levels of communication and language in Bradford is still below the national expectations, and this has been impacted even further during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Waiting lists in Bradford for Speech & Language Therapists are rising along with referrals for individuals. This is also true for schools looking for support from Speech and Language Therapists with Bradford having one of the highest waiting lists for schools of up to 56 weeks.

The Ready To Read document June 2015 from Save the Children states that children living in poverty face a much greater risk of falling behind – one in three (35%) does not have the language skills expected of a five year old.  Bradford has a high child poverty rate. According to Understanding Bradford District website it is 21.8% for Bradford District, compared to 16.6% for England (2018).

  • Other areas considered as drivers were:
  • Increasing library membership
  • Reaching vulnerable families
  • Great rhymers make great readers - The benefit of Rhymes – Research review from Booktrust

The solution

The Bradford Libraries Rhyme Challenge encourages children and parents to sing together and learn five rhymes. It is a language rich initiative that allows families to have fun whilst also developing their children’s language and communication skills.

The challenge takes place each year in libraries, voluntary settings and maintained/non-maintained childcare settings. Bradford Libraries put the challenge together and a designer is commissioned for the artwork. The packs are sent out to each organisation. We produce 300 packs. 

We ask settings/libraries to encourage parents to learn 5 rhymes with their child and receive a certificate to say they have completed the challenge.

Childcare settings, toddler groups all take on the challenge in different ways.  Some have a set programme to learn the rhymes over 5 weeks with a special celebration at the end, others have simply taken the challenge head on and asked parents and carers to learn the rhymes over a shorter period of time. They then sing the rhymes together to receive the certificates. Feedback sheets are completed and returned. The organisations are encouraged to visit the library with their setting. Libraries also undertake the challenge on a 4 week set programme.

At the end of the challenge, after feedback is all collated, we hold a special Bradford Libraries Rhyme Challenge Awards.

This is a simple idea to bring the challenge together and rewards organisations, settings and individuals for their hard work. The awards are usually held at City Hall and presented by the Lord Mayor.

We have presentations from speakers, a childcare crèche, certificates and vouchers and some light refreshments.

Criteria for winning includes:

  • introduced a new element into the challenge
  • worked to ensure library membership for the families taking part in the challenge
  • developed crafts to enhance the challenge
  • completed feedback forms
  • planned activities around the rhymes

The impact

Feedback from parents

99% of parents who responded said they sing rhymes more since the introduction of the new rhyme challenge. 100% of respondents also thought that the challenge had increased their awareness of the benefits of sharing rhymes with very young children. 94% of parents said that the challenge had increased their child’s speech and language skills.

The rhyme challenge has brought a love of rhyme to my child. She is gaining in confidence.  She now tries rhyming anything and everything.  She is teaching the whole family. -Bradford parent. 

Parents also told us that they feel more confident to sing rhymes with their children after taking the rhyme challenge (99% of respondents).

My child is gaining confidence and the rhyme challenge really helped – Bradford Parent


Feedback from group leaders:

100% of group leaders that fed back said that the Rhyme Challenge was beneficial to the families they work with. 100% of group leaders that fed back also thought that parents/carers and children now joined in more with rhymes after the rhyme challenge.

Other impacts:

The challenge has enjoyed popularity and is now requested by many of the groups taking part each year. Year on year the challenge has reached more and more families with 2019 reaching over 9,000 participants. Libraries are able to engage with an increasing number of schools, toddler groups, and other settings each year.

How is the new approach being sustained

Since the Bradford Libraries Rhyme Challenge started it has been funded via Bradford Council Children’s Services. The challenge has been funded until 2022/23. Funding will need to be sought again for the year 2023/24. It would be beneficial to have 2 year funding as a longer term funding commitment in future.

Lessons learned

Take up of the challenge works better where some discussion has taken place either through a Toddler Group Association worker and the toddler group or through phone contact with a school.  When packs are sent out without this interaction there is less likelihood that the organisation will complete the challenge.

Design the pack early – designers can have unexpected delays and push back the whole timeline of the challenge.



Susan Brewster-Craig

Development Officer Early Years Bradford Libraries