MORE SPONSORS are needed to raise early years literacy levels as Bendigo's children's skills lag behind the rest of the state.
The calls for more people to donate to a local book program came at a time when many children starting school lacked basic word and literacy skills, Education City Bendigo chair Maria Simpson said.
"Language and literacy skill development needs to start well before a child even commences school," she said.
"It starts right from birth and by the time they get to school its almost always too late to redress any lost opportunity."
Sixteen percent of greater Bendigo parents report one or more concerns about their children's speech or language on starting school, compared to the state average of 13.8 per cent, according to data supplied by the Loddon Campaspe Regional Partnership.
Last week, the LCRP's David Richardson said work was progressing on a new strategic plan to guide new ideas and initiatives in across the area.
Ms Simpson's group already ran three Bendigo programs geared to raise literacy levels, including Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.
"We are really desperately trying to raise awareness about the relevancy of these programs, their importance in helping Bendigo prosper and to children getting the foundation they need," she said.
The goal was to get parents both to sponsor their own child and another who would otherwise not have a chance to take part.
"These are often the children we most want to engage, so that their lives too can be enriched by the experience this brings not just to them but also to their siblings, parents and carers," Ms Simpson said.
The program allows children to receive a high quality, age appropriate book in the mail every month, free of charge.
It costs $7.50 to support a child between zero and five-years-of-age, with 244 children involved so far this year, she said.
Demand to take part was strong, but participation was limited by sponsorship dollars, Ms Simpson said.
"There is always a waiting list we cannot erase. We close the waiting list when we don't have funds to support new children and open it again once funding is raised," she said.
With enough sponsorship, Ms Simpson said the group could eventually help as many as 400 children at a time.
For more information on current programs including the Imagination Library visit bendigoreads.com.au
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.