A rally cry for children

Blog A rally cry for children
young child reading book on floor

Hundreds of children across Alberta could make it through the literacy loss of this last year if they had a trained volunteer reading one-on-one with them, even virtually.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably been a while since you were learning how to read and maybe had a caring teacher, parent or tutor who helped you ‘crack the code’ of this complicated language of ours.

It’s easy to forget that our human brains are not inherently wired for reading, that it can take an incredible amount of time reading aloud with a caring adult to help a child get to that place where ‘beat’ rolls confidently off his or her little tongue sounding like ‘beet.’

This year, as schools put new restrictions in place and children had an increasing reliance on screens for every aspect of their education, many children in Alberta did not get the in person help they needed to learn to read. Even before the pandemic, many children were not getting the help they needed to read fluently by Grade 3.

Our window to help them is short.

School and life need students to make the leap from learning to read to reading to learn by age eight. Studies show Grade 3 reading ability is one of the greatest predictor’s of a child’s future: high school graduation, employment, incarceration, poverty, and, sadly, becoming a parent who cannot provide the books or nightly read alouds to their own children.

In fact, a mother’s reading skill is the greatest factor to affect her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, like neighbourhood and family income (ABC Life Literacy). So we’re not just talking about the children who’ve experienced literacy loss this year, we’re talking about generations of children.

This is an equity issue.

Children from lower income homes can be exposed to millions fewer words and enter kindergarten without the bank of vocabulary that their peers have and that they need to become a thriving young reader.

One in four Canadian children do not own a book. How do you see yourself as a reader, how do you learn about the world and your feelings and the way through hard things—especially in a year like this—without a single book of your own?

These children need our help. 

Last week, the Government of Alberta announced teachers would be testing students for learning and literacy loss. At Calgary Reads, an organization that equips communities with the books, knowledge and inspiration to support every child reading by Grade 3, it’s a hopeful time: If our province and the public invests in mobilizing an army of volunteers to read one-on-one with students, even virtually, we can ensure those students still have a chance. It can get harder, but it’s never too late.

I urge you, as a member of our community and civil society, to join us in the rally cry for all the children who just need someone to read with them.