Read me a story.

It’s a common refrain to any parent or caregiver, with little ones looking to connect, listen and dream about tales of giants, wizards and princesses that spark their imaginations. But beyond hearing stories, the literacy skills that come with reading and being read to are critical stepping stones for young people’s futures.

More than one million children in Canada have below-grade-level reading skills—and one in five Albertans face daily literacy challenges. Reading and writing at an appropriate level is a requirement for a fulfilling life. What’s particularly troubling is that 75% of children who don’t overcome their early literacy struggles continue to struggle for the rest of their lives.

“Reading is a necessary skill crucial to success in life,” says Karla Heintz, manager, Children and Youth Initiatives at United Way of Calgary and Area. “Literacy helps build emotional and social resilience. It helps us be motivated to engage in the community and take part in decisions going on in the neighbourhood.”

From ABCs to diplomas and degrees

The snowball effect of this gap in learning impacts a person’s financial stability, ability to find employment, secure housing, and access services.

“Think about going to the grocery store or even driving,” says Heintz. “Literacy plays a key role in these daily activities many of us do not even consider.”

1 in 5 Albertans face daily literacy challenges, and as Heintz shares, low literacy skills directly impact the level of education someone may achieve, the income someone will make, the occupation they will be work in, and it can even determine chances of incarceration or voting.

United Way works with multiple community partners to support services for language development and literacy skills in young children. As a member of the 3 6 9 Leaders Table, United Way actively advances policy and advocacy for early learning and literacy through the Enough for All strategy.

Enough For All also plays a leadership role in stewarding the Left Unread movement, which brings awareness to low literacy and the need to support children to reach their full potential.

“Most recently, we invested funds with YW Calgary for LENA Grow, an evidence-based program to boost children’s language, literacy and social-emotional development through classroom educators,” says Heintz.

“The more literate our communities are, the greater quality of life one will experience.”

It starts on day one

Language development starts with babies—talking and singing to babies from day one begins a path to literacy. Reading to children builds on their imagination and allows them to learn about things they may not experience in their own lives.

“Reading to your child regularly also teaches your child the importance of it and that books are an important tool to get information from,” says Heintz.

“Often, the ages referred to are age 3, where children get comfortable with vocabulary and prepare to be school ready, and at age 6, when they learn to read. By age 9, the shift happens where they read to learn things about the world and different classes.”

It’s critical that children in Calgary have the opportunity to realize their full potential. From supporting local libraries to reading to a child in your life to rediscovering the joy of reading yourself, all Calgarians have a role in creating a future where everyone thrives.

Quick ways to improve literacy

  • Read yourself! Find things you’re interested in and read about them
  • Borrow books from the Calgary Public Library (membership is free!)
  • Read to your children daily
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes to young children
  • Talk about letters
  • Pay attention to the amount and quality of screen time in your home
  • Raise the importance of literacy in your community
  • Practice responsive interactions with your children through Serves and Returns