Never too young: early literacy and wellbeing

It’s back to school season! Every year at this time, our focus shifts to the wellbeing of children and youth. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) wants to add to the discussion by exploring the link between education and wellbeing from a lifespan lens, specifically the importance of early childhood learning.

The CIW views education as an ongoing process that can benefit Canadians throughout their entire lives. From our first year of life to our later years, the extent to which we engage in formal and informal learning opportunities contributes to our wellbeing. The CIW’s Education Domain is based on three developmental areas:

  •        social and emotional competence;
  •        basic educational knowledge and skills; and
  •        academic achievement, attainment and participation.

 These areas align with a lifespan development approach to education. (Figure 1).

Figure. 1: Learning through the lifespanlearning through the lifespan infographic


Never Too Young

Gaps in children’s early learning can emerge by 18 months of age. Luckily, there is a simple way to foster early literacy: reading daily to children from birth. Even so, fewer than 70% of Canadian children between three to five years of age are read to on a daily basis

This means that more than 30% of Canadian children are missing out on an opportunity that could shape their readiness to learn when entering school.

Figure 2 shows that reading to infants daily can make a difference:

Figure 2: Benefits of reading to infants daily

benefits of reading to infants daily infographic

Creating an equal opportunity to learn

Many children still lack access to early reading opportunities, especially those living in poverty.  The good news is that, increasingly, health-care providers, provincial governments, and other organizations are creating and supporting early reading programmes.

Access to books

One of the biggest determinants of early literacy is having books in the home. To ensure that every Canadian has access to early reading resources, many communities have implemented programmes that send newborn babies home with early literacy kits, encouraging new parents to read to their babies. Studies show that increasing the amount of books in the home can increase the amount of time parents spend reading to their children.  

woman reading to infant

Public libraries have long been cornerstones of early literacy and most offer high quality children’s programming as well as book borrowing; but not everyone uses libraries and they are sometimes not located nearby. To address this, some communities have a found a new way to encourage reading. Little Free Libraries are popping up in neighbourhoods across Canada. These mailbox-style, informal libraries promote community sharing of books for all ages and reading interests. Anyone passing by is welcome to take a book. In turn, they are encouraged to leave a book. Little Libraries work on the honour system, building community trust while encouraging reading. 

Back to school is a good time to talk about the learning needs of our preschoolers.  Parents, do you read to your children daily? Tweet your thoughts @ciwnetwork or comment on our Facebook page.

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