CHILDREN'S literacy skills are the focal point of a new reading program launched across Lake Macquarie libraries and childcare centres.
Paint the Lake REaD is a joint initiative between Lake Macquarie council and St Vincent de Paul Society's Early Links program, which encourages preschool children to read daily.
According to the most recent Australian Early Development Census data, one in four children in Lake Macquarie are developmentally vulnerable in terms of literacy skills by the time they reach school age.
The program aims to combat this in a hands-on way.
It is modelled on a similar program, Paint the Town REaD, which was born out of a Sydney school 20 years ago.
A papier mache "reading egg" is travelling 20 childcare centres across the city as well as Windale, Toronto, Morisset and Wangi libraries until October.
Children are encouraged to talk, read or sing to the egg to help the baby eagle inside it "grow".
Last week the egg was at Mount Hutton Childcare Centre, where it was kept in a bassinet, fed in a highchair and taken for walks.
The egg will "hatch" at a Children's Week event on October 25 at Awaba House, Booragul.
The now full-grown eagle will become the program's mascot.
As well as the novelty of the reading egg, the program equips parents with information on the importance of reading to children from a young age.
Early Links Lake Macquarie program co-ordinator Joelene Rutherford said community awareness was vital.
"It's so important that [reading] starts young to better children's future education and employment opportunities," she said.
Next year the program will include reading competitions and pop-up reading tents.
For more information on the program or to find out where the egg will be in the coming weeks, go to facebook.com/paintthelakeread.