Two Wearside mums are encouraging other families to take up free early education places on offer for two-year-olds.
More than 1,000 children in Sunderland already benefit from the free early education places, but almost 700 families who are eligible have yet to take up their place.
The Government-funded scheme, which is co-ordinated in Sunderland by Together for Children, offers 15 hours a week of free early education to families in receipt of certain benefits and some children with a recognised disability.
Stacey Cosgrove, 30, from Donwell in Washington, and her son Finlay, aged two, are one family to benefit from the funding opportunity.
Finlay has been going to New World Nursery in Concord, Washington, for almost six months.
Stacey, a full-time mum, said: “Finlay started nursery just after his second birthday and it’s the best thing we could have done.
“His dad and I wanted him to go because he was very clingy and we thought this might help.
“He was nervous about going to nursery at first, and we were too, but it’s been great and we’ve seen a massive change in him.
“He’s made new friends, he doesn’t need his dummy anymore and has really come out of his shell.”
Holly Morrisey, 29, from Fatfield, also in Washington, and mum to George, three, is also encouraging other eligible families to take up their places.
George, who has cerebral palsy, has been attending nursery for a year and a half and during that time Holly has seen him develop new skills really quickly.
Holly said: “I’ve been really surprised at how quickly George has come on at nursery.
“He had always had problems with his eating, and was a little bit messy at mealtimes, but his table manners improved so much when he was eating at nursery with other children.
“He’s also gained confidence, got much better at counting, his speech is improved and he knows the alphabet.”
There are 52 nurseries in Sunderland taking part in the scheme, as well as more than 100 child minders.
Emily Padgett from New World Nursery said: “We understand that sending your little one to nursery can be quite a daunting experience to some parents and carers but early education can have such a positive effect on a child’s development, learning and progress.
“We have had many children come to nursery on a two-year funded place and their parents or carers have had time to take up new courses, employment or even volunteer work.”
Coun Louise Farthing, portfolio holder for Children’s Services at Sunderland City Council, said: “Early education offers an opportunity to give your child the best possible start in life.
“They’ll not only learn new skills but also get any jitters or nerves out of the way before they start in school.
For more information on schools and nurseries delivering the early education offer, or to check eligibility, call 0520 5553 or go to www.togetherforchildren.org.uk/families/childcare.