Read with your kids

Bonnie Belec
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Just a few minutes a day makes all the difference

Lasso the Wind: Aurelia’s Verses and Other Poems
By George Elliott Clarke
Nimbus Publishing
64 pages; $24.95

Family Literacy Day has come and gone and once again it is disappointing to learn the province is no farther ahead than it was 10 years ago.

Lasso the Wind: Aurelia’s Verses and Other Poems


Caroline Vaughan, executive director of Literacy Newfoundland and Labrador, said Tuesday, the day after literacy day, that the most recent study shows no improvement.

That study — Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAC) — was released in the fall of 2013.

“It’s telling us the proportion of people in Newfoundland with low literacy skills remains the same as it was in the 2003 survey — no improvement. And our scoring in numeracy has declined,” Vaughan said.

So, were getting worse at math?

“Yes, that’s right,” she said.

A similar study — Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) — concludes the same thing.

“It says math scores are not where they were in the 2003 study, and Newfoundland and Labrador has seen a continued decline in science, reading and math skills,” she said.


“We know in a sense some needs are not being met in these areas; why is the big question,” Vaughan said.

This doesn’t mean people can’t read or write, she says, but rather people aren’t building transferable skills. The studies are talking about people’s skills levels, she said, and the survey says about 50 per cent are still scoring in the two lowest proficiency levels of no skills, and up to low level skills. This means they can read and write basic information, but aren’t able to tackle various types of data such as filling out documents and forms and understanding what they actually mean.

Family learning and early childhood education play a major role in all of this, says Vaughan, and a recent project by the Department of Education launched on Family Literacy Day is a step in the right direction.

This week, Education Minister Clyde Jackman announced a partnership with public libraries to develop and deliver early childhood literacy programs and resources for schools, family resource centres and regulated child care settings. The new programming will be piloted at a few libraries this spring.

The government has also introduced parent resource kits at child health clinics for children aged two, four and six months, to be distributed across the province this spring.  Kits for children aged 12, 18, 24 and 36 months are also being developed.  

Vaughan says literacy is a basic tool parents can give their children, and while it helps develop strong skills in them, teaching can also help adults improve their own skills.

I know there’s more to this complex issue than just reading books to your children, but it’s a great place to start.

I’ve been reading to Lindsay and Liam since before they were born. After I explained Family Literacy Day to them, we did math homework in French and then they read their French books to me — not that I understood everything, but it is fun to hear how their pronunciation is improving.

By the time we finished homework, everyone was tired, so I read one of our new books of poetry, “Lasso the Wind: Aurelia’s Verses and Other Poems,” by George Elliott Clarke.

Lindsay loves poetry and we’ve been reading Clarke’s book for a while. When I asked her what she thought of it, she said, “It made me dream about riding a big, beautiful whale through the big, beautiful ocean.”

Can you lasso the wind?

Can you whip it a-gale?

Can you make oceans bend to cradle each lost whale?

Clarke’s flowing words are complemented perfectly by illustrator Susan Tooke. She uses vibrant colours and larger-than-life images.

• • •

According to, Family Literacy Day is a national awareness initiative created by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999. It’s held annually on Jan. 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.

Taking time every day to read or do a learning activity with children is crucial to a child’s development. Even just 15 minutes a day can improve a child’s literacy skills dramatically, and can help a parent improve their skills as well. The website says its not only about reading but about having fun with your family. It suggests everything from writing a joke book together and telling knock-knock jokes to creating a family book club and making up riddles.

I know how difficult it is to make time for family activities, but I also know how meaningful it is. Until next time, happy reading.


Bonnie Belec is a Telegram reporter and the mother

of eight-year-old twins Lindsay and Liam. She can be reached at

Organizations: Literacy Newfoundland and Labrador, International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Department of Education ABC Life Literacy Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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