Barnardo's in Northern Ireland is tackling low literacy levels among children from socially deprived areas with its new programme, Ready To Learn.
The children's charity said that by the age of three, children from disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland may be as much as one year behind their peers from more affluent backgrounds.
The charity also said that 20% of children here are leaving primary school unable to read or write to the required standard.
The programme will promote a love of learning among 300 children from nine randomly selected primary schools in Antrim, Ballymena, Belfast and Larne.
The P1 children will spend three hours a week taking part in the project, with their parents or carers involved in a parallel programme.
Children’s literacy expert, Professor Timothy Shanahan, said the project could positively change the lives of the children taking part during these times of austerity.
He said: “Programmes like this allow schools to up their game and actually raise achievement.
“It can be life changing and is especially important when budgets are getting cut. Across the school year it’s close to 100 hours learning and this can be enough to raise children’s reading levels by as much as one year.
“Western societies are really challenged right now trying to deal with a new economic situation. In Northern Ireland, closing the achievement gap is pretty important.”