For many of us, it’s difficult to imagine childhood without the joy of reading. From infancy on, books are a vital part of developmental learning, stimulating imaginations and thinking skills, and bonding with caregivers.
Yet for many young children in Winnipeg, barriers such as a lack of access to reading programs, libraries, parental support, or a lack of culturally relevant programming, compromise literacy and early learning opportunities. In particular, Winnipeg’s inner-city children fall below the national average for school readiness, adversely affecting the area’s high population of newcomer and aboriginal children.
Strong literacy skills in children from infancy to age 5 are proven to have a profound impact on self-esteem, ability to learn, and overall development. Understanding the positive long-term implications of a city where all children are prepared to meet the school day, people and organizations are rising to the challenge.
One of those organizations is Bookmates, a Manitoba non-profit dedicated to promoting and supporting family literacy.
Established in 1984, Bookmates develops family literacy programs in partnership with parents and community organizations such as childcare facilities, schools, libraries, family resource centres, and other family-focused groups. The agency will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2014.
Bookmates also delivers these programs through the support of community organizations, and offers training for literacy practitioners. Programs are specifically designed to enhance pre-school children’s learning capabilities and develop the skills they will need to succeed once they begin school, through fun, hands-on activities that encourage parental participation.
Bookmates’ mission is, “to foster family literacy through inter-generational programs and activities that enhance learning.” For Monica Dinney, Bookmates’ executive director, ensuring kids get the right start on the scholastic road is critical.
“A child’s brain develops more rapidly between birth and age five than any other period of their life,” says Dinney. Trillions of synapses are created during this time. We need to take advantage of that with good early learning experiences.”
Bookmates takes a fun approach to learning, ensuring that active play is a big part of every program they create and deliver. But the programs aren’t just about fun and games.
“Children are testing their knowledge every time they pick up a pen, fold a paper, or read a book with a parent,” says Dinney. “Everything a child does helps set the stage for them to be ready for school. School readiness is a huge issue in Manitoba. It’s not just about having fun–it’s getting them ready to meet the challenge ahead and supporting parents as the child’s first teachers.”
Bookmates and their volunteers have been acknowledged with several awards for their work.
Their Alphabet Soup program, developed in collaboration with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, won an award from Dietitians of Canada for cleverly incorporating healthy eating and literacy into fun activities for kids and parents. Alphabet Soup is now used across Canada.
The Winnipeg Foundation has been a supporter of Bookmates since 2001, and has made grants to several organizations and programs dedicated to early learning child literacy across the city.
The Winnipeg Foundation and Community News Commons will hold a special presentation on Wednesday, Mar. 27, at 2:00 p.m. at the Winnipeg Free Press Café, where you can learn more about these engaging programs and meet several grantees, including representatives from Bookmates, who will tell their stories about how they are addressing these challenges and the solutions they are delivering with support from the Foundation.
More articles on this important subject can be found at: