Before a child has even taken his or her first breath, parents can build a positive connection to the written word through the power of reading.

**Having a caring person read aloud to children before or upon birth helps build a foundation for listening and language skills, vocabulary, imagination and creative thinking, according to the Family Literacy Foundation.

"Sharing books, rhymes and stories with your children, and talking to them throughout your daily activities, will help them be ready to read when they start school," says Jean Ludlam, manager of youth services at the Calgary Public Library.

Fostering an appreciation for books, letters and reading can be developed through the early literacy program Growing Readers For Life, which is available to families through the library.

The program highlights six pre-reading skills a child can start learning from birth and revolves around parents and children though a series of steps: I Like Books, I See Words, I Hear Words, I Know Letters, I Know Words and I Can Tell A Story.

I Like Books, or "print motivation," fosters a child's interest in and enjoyment of books and involves knowing how books work, associating them with fun or pleasure and making them attractive and interesting to children.

I See Words, or print awareness, focusing on helping a child notice that print is everywhere. Pointing out a stop sign, labels on food or street names creates an awareness of letters that is essential to reading skill.

In the third step, phonological awareness–or I Hear Words–assists a child in hearing and playing with smaller sounds in words.

"By playing with words that share the same sound, such as fat, cat, bat, rat, you are helping your child hear sounds that go together to make words," say Ludlam. "This word play develops the ability to associate sounds of letters, for instance, the 'b' sound in bear, ball or book."

Hearing words leads directly to letter knowledge, or I Know Letters. This skill easily helps children understand that letters are different from one another and have different shapes and sounds.

"Activities to develop this skill include playing with letter magnets on the fridge, using letter shaped pasta or building letters with (modelling clay)," says Ludlam. "Teaching letters by associating them to circles, sticks and triangles is a fundamental building block."

I Know Words refers to a child's development of knowing names of things which creates a rich vocabulary. For this step, Ludlam recommends pointing out and explaining the difference between things a child sees every day, such as a glass, cup and mug. Instructing a child to speak in two-and three-word sentences is also helpful, she says.

Children begin to understand the basic structure–beginning, middle and end–of stories when they've been read to frequently. In the I Can Tell a Story step, Ludlam encourages parents to have their child describe events or tell a story of their day, so to add structure and narrative.

Children need to know about reading and writing before they can actually do it, she says.

"The parent is the best teacher of this information and the library supports this connectedness within the family by providing great resources and a rich and varied collection of children's books," adds Ludlam.

Learning to read is a laboured process that can be slow and without flow, she says, because a child is busy sounding out letters, putting sentences together and focusing on the words and not the story.

"Reading to your child helps them over the hump," says Ludlam. "It assists them in putting all of the skills together to form a great story, so they continue to build the capacity to participate in a whole narrative."

Reading is an activity that fits very readily into any busy life, she says, and incorporating it into a hectic daily schedule can be as simple as listening to a book on CD while commuting, combining snuggling time with the reading of one book chapter at bedtime or sharing a section of the newspaper.

"The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading is reading aloud to children," says Dariel Bateman, a retired principle and executive director of

CalgaryReads. "If an adult they respect and love reads to them regularly, involves them in significant conversation and is seen reading, the child will turn into a really good reader."

A common understanding in education focuses the early years (grades 1 to 3) on "learning to read" and has an expectation for older children (Grade 4 and up) to focus on "reading to learn," he says.

"Reading is a life-long activity, absolutely," says Bateman. "Take time to read with your family."

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