My son was born in the middle of a typical Winnipeg winter: snowy and painfully cold. For the first few months of his life, we stayed bundled up in our cozy suburban house, venturing out only when the mercury crept past -40C, which wasn’t very often. Despite having added a new person to our household, my infant son was a terrible conversationalist and our house was quiet and empty. I found myself reading aloud to help stave off the loneliness and isolation I was feeling. With my son in a sling while I made dinner, I’d read him cookbooks. Sometimes I read him the parenting books while I sat on the floor with him during tummy time (reminding him that the book said he should be sleeping more than two measly hours at a time).
One day my husband came home during his lunch hour and caught me reading the grocery flyers to Isaac.
“Have you ever thought about taking him to the library?” he asked. “I’m pretty sure the baby doesn’t care about the price of grapefruit.”
As silly as it sounds, I had never thought of seeking out childrens’ books to read. From that moment on, we were regular visitors to the library—carting home boardbooks, silly nursery rhyme books and new cookbooks (I’d long since given up on parenting books since each one made me feel like I was doing something wrong). Reading aloud was much more interesting after that!
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My son is now a voracious reader and I firmly believe those early days of flyers and cookbooks helped. I still read aloud to pass the time, and a new statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to read to their babies from birth to help brain development and build early language.
"Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime," the AAP says.
In 2006, the Canadian Paediatric Society published a statement on the importance of reading to infants, issued on the heels of research that low literacy had become a crisis in Canada. Sadly, Statistics Canada reports that 48 percent of adults do not have the literacy skills to cope with everyday life—a number that has not improved over the last 20 years.
“Low literacy is, at its root, a paediatric problem. Most children who have not mastered reading by the end of grade three will never catch up," the CPS says. "This leads to school failure and early school leaving, which in turn puts young adults at higher risk for poor outcomes."
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Recommendations by the CPS included daily reading, storytelling and singing with their children as ways to build early language skills. Singing and storytelling, especially, are key for families where the primary language in a child’s home is not the local language—Statistics Canada reports that only 40 percent of immigrants have the literacy skills essential for daily living.
The literacy statistics in Canada are sobering, but as Dr. Leigh Anne Newhook with the CPS said in an interview with CTV News, it’s never too late to start daily reading session.
“At any age it’s beneficial, but the earlier, the better,” she says.
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