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Reading, storytelling, singing, and talking with kids are free and accessible approaches to building literacy skills and supporting your child’s social-emotional and academic development.fizkes/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Let’s Talk Science and the Royal Society of Canada have partnered to provide Globe and Mail readers with relevant coverage about issues that affect us all – from education to the impact of leading-edge scientific discoveries.

Ariel Siller is Chief Executive Officer and Nina Jobanputra Shukla is Literacy Content Manager at the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation, a partner of Let’s Talk Science.

In times of turmoil, the importance of literacy skills becomes irrefutable. Literacy allows us to separate fact from fiction, share critical information, and make informed decisions. It is at the root of resilience.

As families with young children living through this unprecedented time, we want to raise resilient children. We want to raise readers. Strong readers are better equipped to ask questions, understand other points of view, and think critically.

Reading, storytelling, singing, and talking with kids are free and accessible approaches to building literacy skills and supporting your child’s social-emotional and academic development.

However, despite the long-term benefits of early literacy activities to children’s development, even pre-pandemic these strategies were not often in use by about half of families in Canada.

Literacy happens everywhere

Literacy is a continuum of skills rooted in reading and writing. The introduction of literacy skills, often known as pre-literacy or early literacy, happens from birth, well before our children learn to read. This includes such things as developing awareness of words and sounds, and learning how to hold and turn pages of a board book.

Our friends at ABC Life Literacy Canada have set the theme of this year’s Family Literacy Day (January 27) as “Learning in The Great Outdoors.” This is a timely reminder that families can support early literacy development just about anywhere, during any part of the day. Whether it be a walk to the bus while naming the colours of cars as they go by or singing your child’s favourite song, the everyday opportunities are endless. Here are some fun and free activities to try outdoors together.

The research on early literacy activities

All early literacy activities – including reading, storytelling, singing and talking with kids – deliver huge benefits. Children whose parents often engage in any of these early literacy activities score significantly higher in reading achievement than their peers in Grade 4. Early literacy skills are vital to ensuring children and youth are able to succeed and thrive in all areas of education, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Cultivating children’s natural curiosity and desire to gather information, explore and test limits are all at the heart of STEM engagement.

While all early literacy activities are beneficial, it’s also good to get some reading time in when you can. Little kids who are read with regularly — five times a week — have stronger social-emotional skills at age five than those who aren’t read with as often. And it’s important not to stop reading with kids when they can read independently. Kids benefit from reading together throughout their childhood. Reading can help them not only cope, but thrive.

Importantly, it’s not just beneficial to the kid. Parents and other family members have been shown to feel better about their caregiving skills when they engage in a regular reading.

The barriers to engaging in early literacy activities can feel daunting. There may be time scarcity, limited access to books, gaps in your own reading skills (including comfort reading aloud), your child’s apparent lack of interest, and the omnipresent lure of screens.

Where to start?

You can start by tapping into everyday opportunities to engage in early literacy activities with your child and spur new creative thinking, even for 15 minutes a day. If you speak multiple languages, use the one most comfortable for you.

Children are natural, curious learners and it’s often inspiring the way they explore and discover the world. They have an innate desire to gather information, question everything, and test theory after theory – attributes that are at the heart of STEM engagement. Early literacy is foundational for children to learn effectively and ultimately realize the endless possibilities within STEM.

So don’t be discouraged if your little one throws books on the ground, interrupts the songs, or doesn’t respond when you talk about what you see out the window. It’s all part of the reading and STEM journeys.

Every time you talk, sing, tell stories, or read with a child, you’re helping them to become a reader, which will build resilience, expand their learning, and deliver benefits for them throughout their life.

For more information and resources, visit childrensliteracy.ca.