Many great thinkers have said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” It’s true, our brains are amazing organs, but we have to work to keep them active and this is why early literacy is so important. During the first years of a child’s life, their brain will develop at an incredible rate. In fact, a young child’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s during the first few years. Babies start building language skills as soon as they are born, even before they can speak. By the time a child reaches their first birthday they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language, which is why reading and talking to young children is so important - even newborns. Studies show that the more words your child is exposed to at a young age, the better he or she will be able to speak, learn, read and communicate.
So why focus on early literacy? Recently there has been a concern about student’s English marks in Alberta. The number of students reaching an acceptable standard (a mark of 50 percent of more), has dropped to 85.1 percent from 88 percent in 2006. Although, there are many factors that are likely contributing to this decline, early literacy skills definitely have an impact. Research shows children without reading skills by third grade are at higher risk not to graduate high school. This means reading with children needs to start long before they enter school. Since Alberta had the lowest high school completion of all the Canadian provinces in 2006 (only 68 percent of Alberta students completed high school); it only seems to make sense that we focus on improving early literacy skills.
According to the most recent International Adult Literacy Survey, about 40% of adult Albertans do not have the minimum levels of literacy to fully participate in today’s economy. Since literacy is linked to education, employment, income levels, health and involvement in the criminal justice system, it is very important that all children are exposed to reading at a very young age so they are able to thrive to their fullest ability. Research shows children have a better chance of becoming fully literate adults if reading is encouraged in the home.
There are many programs available in Edmonton that can help teach parents and caregivers how to promote early literacy skills. The Centre for Family Literacy, a United Way Member Agency, offers many programs for young children and their families such as Books for Babies and the Literacy Classroom on Wheels (better known as the C.O.W. bus that some of you may have seen driving around town). So if you or someone you know is interested in accessing these programs contact the Centre for Family Literacy. Because good literacy skills can make a world of difference to the future of all Edmontonians.
Angela Wilson is a Communications Specialist with Success By 6.
ABC Life Literacy Canada
Bush/Cheney White House (2004). “Good Start, Grow Smart: The Bush Administration's Early Childhood Initiative” Executive Summary.
GJ Whitehurst & CJ Lonigan (2001). "Emergent literacy: development from prereaders to readers."
Statistics Canada, 2006