Strickland Gillilan, an American poet and humourist, wrote, “You may have tangible wealth untold; Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be – I had a mother who read to me.”
This sentiment is one that Hilary Bloom, Squamish Public Library director of library services, shares. “Starting literacy young is crucial. The younger, the better,” she says.
Research shows that just 15 minutes a day can make a difference – and it doesn’t just have to be pure reading. “It starts with singing rhymes and reading or talking to your baby, and having books and materials around the house… just so the comfort level is there and that familiarity with words and language forms,” says Bloom.
Kate Inman, the children’s librarian, explains that when children are young, it’s all about language development. “A lot of it is what we call pre-literacy skills, so we’re preparing children to learn to read,” she says. “Even talking about your day with your baby is really helpful because they learn about anticipating a storyline and being able to tell a storyline back.”
It doesn’t even matter if the book is in a language other than your own, Inman explains. “You don’t need to use the words on that page – just talk as you’re reading the book. It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you’re making it an enjoyable, fun experience.”
Bloom suggests you can even turn everyday activities into a literacy game. “Point out print wherever you go: stop signs, posters, grocery store labels. It’s everywhere.”
Encouraging literacy in any way librarians suggest celebrating Canada’s annual Family Literacy Day this week, because the overwhelming conclusion of the research is that literacy enriches the lives of children, their families and society as a whole. Children who start early tend to do better both academically and socially, are more likely to attend higher education, less likely to commit crime, and they are more likely to lead overall heathier lives and to vote, according to research.
Also, attending literacy programs enables parents and caregivers to connect with one another, access social support and even learn effective parenting strategies, experts say.
Squamish Public Library offers literacy programs for children of all ages, in addition to community-based ones such as HPOP, Mothergoose and Strong Start. And attendance is strong. Last year 11,914 people took part in 440 family-friendly programs at the library, and the number of story times offered has increased over the past 10 years to eight weekly from three. The sessions include Time with Tots, Books for Babies, Multilingual Story Time and the Teen Library Club.
The library has also partnered with Vancouver Coastal Health and local midwives to deliver a board-book package to every new baby in Squamish, and the package includes information about library programs. “It’s never too early to start fostering literacy skills in your children,” says Bloom, who explains that reading can also help form an emotional connection. “If you read to a baby, they associate books with being held and being loved, and they will always have that fond comfort association with books.”
Literacy is also associated with numbers, explains Pam Gliatis, literacy outreach coordinator for Squamish. “All the things we’ve said about reading apply to numbers as well with young children. The more you integrate math and numbers into daily activities and include your child, the more natural and integrated numbers become.”
Emma Moses, a speech-language pathologist and mother of three boys, uses the library extensively with her family. “It’s such a fabulous resource for instilling the importance of reading,” she says. “We visit at least once a week and have accessed every single library program since they were born.”
In addition to being a shared family experience, reading can also be a great personal escape for children, says Moses. “At school they talk a lot about self-regulation now – the ability to control and calm your own emotions – and I think reading is a great vehicle for that. The ability to quieten yourself and focus on a book and derive pleasure from it is actually a skill.”
At home, she and her husband, Elliot, set a good example by enjoying reading themselves, but they also still read to all their children, especially at bedtime. “It’s still an indulgence I think to be read to, and it shouldn’t stop at childhood…whether it’s 10 minutes or half an hour,” she says.
“The more a child is read to and reads, the more vocabulary that child can access just in their use of language on a daily basis,” says Moses.
Extended family can also help develop literacy among younger family members. Don and Phyllis Lamont are grandparents to twin boys, aged 19 months, and love seeing their literacy develop. Phyllis, who has a background in education, says, “Two or three times a day they’ll crawl up on our laps and insist you read one book after another.”
It’s also a wonderful way to strengthen family bonds, she explains. “They want to be right in your arms and there is such lovely bonding there. It’s such a win-win for everybody.”
Every Monday, the Lamonts take the boys to story time at the library. “We really love going with them and they’re very comfortable with us going there. It’s been a real joy for both of us,” she says.
“I just think it’s a wonderful library with wonderful people,” says Don. “They’re very warm and welcoming and we feel really at home. And so do the boys.”
Although childhood literacy is vitally important, Pam Gliatis, who runs adult literacy programs through Squamish’s literacy group Dream Makers and at Capilano University, reminds us that adult literacy should not be overlooked. “A lot of the focus is on early learning because it has such a huge impact on the rest of people’s lives, but literacy is an issue with older people as well,” she says. “It takes a lot of courage to come and say: I need help as an adult with reading and writing,” she says.
Bloom agrees, “Adult literacy support is often overlooked, or ignored, or not known about… and it’s a really important service that needs as much awareness as possible.”
Those who do improve their literacy as an adult not only feel more independent and empowered, they’re also more active in the community and take part in opportunities, Gliatis explains.
The Hot Spot on Cleveland is another resource for adult learners and has a library especially to support adults practising their reading. It also has a weekly book club, conversation classes for people learning English as a second language, and a tutoring program that connects volunteers with individuals learning to read.
Capilano University also runs a number of adult literacy programs including the free, weekly Faces Family Literacy Program, which brings children and parents together to engage in literacy activities that strengthen the literacy of the entire family.
For details on all literacy programs in Squamish, for both adults and children, visit Squamish library on Second Avenue. There’s no cost to join and it’s open seven days a week. Adult literacy information can also be found at the Hot Spot on Cleveland Avenue and at Capilano University.
Squamish Public Library is hosting a special family fun night with crafts and games on Feb. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. in honour of Family Literacy Day.