The scheme, run by the National Literacy Trust, will recruit 500 volunteers to work with 2,000 families in London to help children before they start school.
A group of 360 ‘literacy champions’ will give one-to-one intensive support to children who have been identified by nurseries, social workers or health visitors as needing help with learning development. Over eight weeks, the volunteers will encourage parents to read to their children and teach them games to boost speech and language skills.
A further cohort of 140 volunteers – ‘reading ambassadors’ – will visit libraries and reading workshops to take part in existing literacy schemes.
The project is part of the Mayor of London's wider volunteering programme Team London, which will be launched later this month.
Boris Johnson said, 'Improving childhood literacy unlocks a myriad of opportunities and bestows a life long passion for learning. It is desperately unfair that hundreds of children in our city enter education struggling with the basic language and learning skills they need to succeed in the classroom.
'Every parent wants the best start for their child, and this fantastic new scheme will equip them with the mechanisms to make literacy a fun part of their children’s daily lives. Everyone who has an interest in helping should get in touch to help truly make a difference.'
Peter Andre, who joined the Mayor at the scheme's launch at Botwell Green Library in west London, said it was important that parents read to their children.
'As a child I adored books and listening to the fantastic stories my parents would tell me and my brother. Now I’m a parent myself, I’ve shared that passion for stories with my children. I love talking to them about their day and reading them bed time stories. Reading doesn't need to be a chore, and the earlier we get our kids to embrace it, the better.'
National Literacy Trust director Jonathan Douglas said, ‘The National Literacy Trust’s work has demonstrated that friends, neighbours and other community members can help parents support the literacy of their children. This is particularly important for parents with low literacy who may be less confident using services such as libraries and children’s centres. With an estimated one in five parents in London struggling with basic literacy, we hope the scheme will make a huge difference to families in the capital.’