Let Me Tell You a Story

As a youngster growing up, I lived on farm just west of Calgary.  There was no kindergarten in our school, and there was no community library.  There wasn’t even a village centre – it was just a rural farm and ranch community.

However, I was fortunate because my grandpa lived with us so bedtime always included him reading or telling me a story.  Even though I had lots of books to choose from, and he would happily read from those, most often the stories he told would be his own – just something he made up.

I had no way of knowing at the time that my grandpa’s willingness to spend that time with me and tell me stories would foster a love for words and my imagination – and, in fact, help me be a better reader once I was in school.  Since then, I have always loved reading.

I think this is why I am saddened when I see the statistic stating that 40% of adults in Alberta do not have the literacy skills to compete in today’s economy.  That’s like trying to play hockey without knowing how to skate. 

Literacy and learning skills start early – or they should.  However, through our work in community and from our agency partners that specialize in early childhood development, we know that many children in our community aren’t getting that fair start.  In fact, some will arrive at kindergarten or grade one without ever holding a book or a pencil.  For most of us, this is hard to comprehend, but for many, it’s reality. 

In United Way’s efforts to lift people out of poverty, education is a key factor - helping kids be all that they can be.  This includes providing basics and essentials to parents and caregivers so that they have access to necessary tools and supports needed for their little ones.

One such program is the Alberta Prairie C.O.W bus – or, Classroom on Wheels (a school bus that has been outfitted to look like a giant cow). The bus brings family literacy support and awareness to rural and urban communities throughout the province.

The C.O.W. bus is a friendly space for parents and younger children, zero to six years, to learn and explore fun new ways to add literacy activities into their daily lives. 

At the invitation of local literacy groups, the C.O.W. bus tours rural and urban communities across Alberta participating in locally planned events. A visit from the C.O.W. Bus is an exciting way to promote family literacy.

It was an exciting and proud day for me last week when I received an email from my oldest daughter; attached was a photograph of my granddaughter, standing proudly by the C.O.W. bus holding a picture she had colored.  Another photo was also attached, a picture of the book they had borrowed to read.  The bus had visited their small community of Provost.  

Parents and caregivers NEED to have resources and guidance to offer their children experiences and chances to learn. 

The benefits of the Alberta Prairie C.O.W bus are clearly stated on the Centre for Family Literacy’s website.

For Families

  • Works with parents to help them read with their babies and preschoolers.

  • Presents parents with new ideas for family literacy activities to use at home.

  • Promotes oral language development - the foundation for literacy.

  • Raises awareness of parents as their child’s first and best teachers.

For Communities

  • Increases the amount of children’s reading material available to local families.

  • The ultimate goal: a more literate society.

For my 2 ½ year-old granddaughter, the C.O.W. bus was a huge hit.  When she was told that they had to go home for lunch and a nap, there were tears but another visit to the bus after nap time was promised and delivered.

Watch for the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus in your neighbourhood – a complete schedule of visits in the province are listed here:  2013 Schedule

In my daughter’s words, “Parents - read to your children – it’s the best thing you can do for them, and it’s free.”


Nancy Critchley is a wife, mother of three, grandma of five (hoping for more) and an avid reader.  She also remembers that the main character in her grandpa's stories was the beloved, "Judy Bear"