Young brains soak up the information around them like tiny, too-cute sponges. That’s the reason, put simply, why it is important to get children interested in reading in the early years of life.
Janette Pelletier, director of the Institute of Child Studies at the University of Toronto, simplifies the science: “The early years provide a unique opportunity for learning,” she says. “Enriched experiences mean more and faster connections in the brain, whereas deprived environments can have the opposite effect.”
Developing the right reading habits can never start too early, Pelletier adds. “These early experiences have cumulative effects that in essence, set children along trajectories that become increasingly stable over time.” She’s not suggesting private preschool, but a nightly Robert Munsch reading will do more good than you think.
Margaret Eaton, president of ABC Life Literacy Canada, says as a parent, the most important thing to do is to create a reading culture around your child.
“When you make reading a social activity that you do aloud together, that really fosters the love of reading,” she says. Eaton suggests participating in literacy activities as a family, many of which can be done around the house. “You can let your child make the grocery list, look at recipes and cook, and you can even search for things on the Internet together,” she says. Pelletier similarly suggests playing word games, such as finding items in the house that start with a particular sound.
ABC Life Literacy Canada runs a yearly Family Literacy Day Jan. 27 to shine a spotlight on the role parents can play in their children acquiring literacy skills. A reading culture can also extend outside of the house, by creating an awareness of print in your child’s outside environment as well as inside. Lisa Heggum, the Children and Youth Advocate for Toronto Public Library Services, says it’s as simple as pointing at signs and reading them along with your child.
Heggum works on the library of Toronto’s year-round Ready for Reading program. The program organizes story-times for parents and children at library branches across Toronto, and produces brochures that offer information on how to encourage a love for reading. The free, half-hour story-time sessions are an interactive way to get young children into reading. “They are full of songs, stories and rhymes — all of which are key ways to make reading fun for kids,” Heggum says. The librarians that lead the sessions also offer parents advice on how to get their children into reading.
Heggum says one of the most important tips they suggest is for parents to be role model readers. “If you take special time yourself to read, and your kids see you doing that, it will have a huge impact.”
By Ania Medrek
National Post, Afterword