September 8 marks International Literacy Day, a global celebration highlighting learning and literacy in the home, at schools, libraries and learning centres.
Early exposure to language in everyday activities – whether it’s reading the back of a cereal box, helping a parent measure ingredients for a recipe or learning the words to a song – can become invaluable learning moments for children. It can also foster close interactions between them and their parents and caregivers.
Reading together as a family
For Pamela Oakley, a freelance writer and editor living in Toronto, reading with her sons throughout their childhood became a magical retreat for their minds – a place to escape, to grow and to explore. Sometimes it meant snuggling together with a book before lights-out. Or, it would mean a survival strategy on a long road trip. Wherever they were, reading was often their time spent together as a family.
“I literally started reading to them when they were first born,” says Oakley. She began with typical children’s picture books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Guess How Much I Love You.
The words “bedtime” and “stories” eventually went hand-in-hand.
“Reading books was the incentive for getting ready for bed,” says Oakley. “If they wanted books they had to get pajamas on and teeth brushed. It was the highlight of my day and I think they felt similarly. We read every single night.”
The benefits of early reading
Research shows that when children and their parents read together frequently, children tend to:
- develop broader vocabularies,
- learn new things,
- discover different ways of seeing the world and
- develop a strong belief that reading is both important and enjoyable.
The building blocks of language and literacy form in the first three years of a child’s life, says Mack Rogers, Director of Programs at ABC Life Literacy Canada.
Developing these skills makes it easier for children to learn to read in school. It’s an essential skill that’s vital to educational success. It’s also an advantage they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.
“Study after study has shown that a person who has a higher level of literacy is more successful in school, employment, and life overall,” says Rogers. “Being engaged and learning creates an active mind and is fundamental to functioning in today's society.”
But Rogers also says literacy is becoming “a bit of a lost art.” That’s partly because parents are finding it more challenging to fit spontaneous reading time into packed schedules.
“Each year, it seems we’re moving farther away from a culture of literacy and learning, critical thinking and using our imagination,” he says. “The drive and motivation for literacy and numeracy is lowering. Perhaps it’s because we’re in a culture where we Google everything or watch videos for answers. We don’t really take the time to figure something out.”
6 ways to encourage good reading habits in kids
ABC Life Literacy Canada suggests that simply reading aloud to children for 15 minutes a day. You can combine this with giving your kids opportunities to express their imaginations through arts and crafts. By doing this, you can boost their brain power dramatically and help improve your own skills as well.
Here are some ideas for you and your family to try together this International Literacy Day and beyond. You may even be able to inspire and engage even the most reluctant reader in your family.
1. Read together as a family
“Aside from being the obvious first step towards literacy, reading with your child is a great activity. It’s a lot of fun and one of the best ways to spend time together,” says Rogers. Talking about books can open the lines of communication between parent and child.
2. Let your kids see you reading
Because "monkey see, monkey do.” One of the best ways to get your child interested in reading is by taking the time to read yourself.
“Our daughter reads every night for at least a half hour,” says Rogers. “And during that time, my wife and I also read. The idea is that this becomes the norm and the inspiration.”
3. Read from a variety of genres
“Read something that your kid wouldn’t normally read or understand,” says Rogers. “Poetry is something a child may not naturally gravitate towards, or even song lyrics. Even something that’s considered strange is an exciting way to engage kids.”
4. Turn off screens, devices and electronics
Children these days have lots of devices to distract them from their reading, so make sure they have time to focus. Turn off the TV or tablet half an hour before bedtime and give them the choice to read or go to sleep. Chances are high they’ll pick reading.
5. Create a word wall
A word wall doesn’t have to be just for a classroom. Using Bristol board and markers, a whiteboard or a chalkboard, display a new word every day, with a visual reference for younger children. Challenge your child to think through the multiple definitions that words on the word wall can have, depending on the context in which they’re used.
6. Play word games with your kids
Some of the classic and much-loved word games are perfect for aiding and encouraging children’s language and literacy skills. Games such as Scrabble, Scattergories and Boggle are available in the traditional board game format or online. These sort of games are all about creating words. And, while the adult version of Scrabble may be too advanced for young children to manage, the Junior edition is perfect.
- It’s never too soon to start saving for your child’s post-secondary education. Find out more about registered education savings plans (RESPs).