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Fifteen minutes of literacy

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Shawn Gill Photo

Students in an after-school program at Duncan Cran Elementary School demonstrate their love of reading. January is Family Literacy Month in Fort St. John.

Council has proclaimed January 2013 as Family Literacy Month in Fort St. John.
As part of literacy month, parents are encouraged to read to their children every day or to otherwise engage their children in activities that promote literacy.
"The importance of literacy cannot be overestimated. Through their parents, children will learn to love to read and then the world opens up and opportunities are endless. It is very important to read, read and read some more," said Lori Ackerman, Fort St. John's mayor.
This year, the theme of Family Literacy Month is 15 Minutes of Fun. The goal is to encourage families to learn together.
"Because learning doesn't just take place in the classroom, it takes place all over the place," said Erin Evans, the North Peace Alliance's literacy outreach coordinator.
Evans said that parents can use a variety of methods to help aid their child's development.
If families are sitting down for dinner at a restaurant, they can develop their pre-kindergarten child's literacy skills by asking them to identify some of the letters that appear on the menu.
Getting children to count how many litter A's appear on the menu or asking them 'how many pizzas do you see?', if you're at Boston Pizza, for example, are other useful techniques.
"These are fun things that families can do together even just sitting down for dinner. Kids are naturally curious and will naturally gravitate towards" that style of learning, "So its just a matter of us helping and guiding them to do that kind of stuff," Evans said.
"Read the cereal box, read the shampoo bottle, read a bedtime story. It all helps," said Ackerman.
Other fun literacy activities to do with kids include playing board games, colouring together or making up a silly poem with them.
What can Snakes and Ladders can do for a child's literacy skills?
"Literacy is about way more than learning," said Evans, "it's about critical thinking, problem-solving, team-work," and so much more.
A community that increases its literacy will see improvements in many other areas.
"There's lower crime rates, lower drug use rates, lower domestic violence rates, higher voter turnout … there are so many kinds of benefits from increased literacy skills," Evans said.
Generally, low-income communities have lower literacy rates. Fort St. John is unusual, in this regard, in that it has lower literacy levels than many communities in British Columbia even though incomes here are much higher than the provincial average.
According to the Northern Peace Literacy Alliance website, Literacy rates are also correlated with health, meaning that less literate people are likely to be in poorer physical health.
A person's literacy level is also a predictor of whether or not they are engaged in the community through organizations and volunteering. With higher literacy linked to higher civic engagement.
Many people think of literacy as being the ability to read and write. Evans said that this is a narrow definition.
"There are very few people who can't read and write," she said, but literacy is about more than just that, "It's that critical thinking. Picking up the newspaper, reading then reflecting on that story and comparing it to what you saw on the news the night before and what you heard people talking about in the coffee shop and piecing all that together."
It's reaching this broader definition of literacy, one including comprehension ability, that that Evans thinks every community in the country, not just Fort St. John, should strive for.
Along with her colleagues, Evans has been putting together activities for Family Literacy month, which will culminate in the nationally celebrated Family Literacy Day on Jan. 27.
Family Literacy Day started in 1999. It is the creation of ABC Life Literacy Canada, an organization that promotes literacy at every stage of life.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, ""Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential."
For tips on how to add 15 minutes of literacy fun to your family's day, visit: abclifeliteracy.ca/fld/family-literacy-day.


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