| Feb 07, 2008

Feb 7/08 - Early Literacy

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Early Literacy - February, 2008 Family Dayby Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist, HFL&A

The right place at the right time. That is how it seemed to Ben and me as we sat in the Ontario Legislature last April. Our good fortune began with a successful bid at a fund-raiser for our local Children’s Aid Society. Lunch for two with Leona Dombrowsky was the prize. Although I knew many who would love to bend Leona’s ear over lunch, it was my own son who wanted to see how parliament ticked. And so it happened that we witnessed the first reading in parliament for our new Family Day vacation.

Bill 195 describes the importance of family in creating a healthy and stable society. Joining the ranks of Albertans and Saskatchewans, Ontario families are encouraged to take advantage of Family Day and spend time together.

However we decide to use this new long weekend, parents or guardians can build on the intent of the day by ensuring there is time to talk with their child about their Family Day adventures. Whether it’s sledding, building a snowman, baking cookies, going skiing, skating or visiting family or friends, the value of reminiscing and building traditions or routines has been shown to impact children’s intellectual growth, literacy skills and shear pleasure in life.

Research suggests that children who are raised in homes with deliberate collective gatherings and eagerly anticipated events are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and develop a greater sense of self. One study with 70 four to nine-year-old children showed that those who experienced less consistent and meaningful family routines and rituals over five years were less likely to engage in school activities and achieve academically (Fiese 2002).

Family stories are an integral part of creating and remembering family experiences. They also help children cope in times of stress. When families engage in conversation about events in their lives, their stories reflect and explore beliefs, values and expectations for getting along.

Interestingly, family stories vary not just according to unique experiences, but also according to personalities. During early childhood it is estimated that parents or guardians recount and reflect on family experiences with their children up to eight times per hour. Some do this in a way that elaborates the event with description, comments and questions that help their child connect the event to emotions or related experiences. Other adults focus only on remembering factual details. These stylist differences influence the development of children’s narrative skills. When parents explore family stories with description, emotions and ideas, children develop better narrative skills. Children with better story telling skills develop larger vocabularies (Peterson & McCabe 2004). They develop greater early literacy skills (Snow 1983), and a more differentiated and secure sense of self ((Fivush, Bohanke, Robertson & Duke, 2004).

Ben and I were in the right place at the right time, not because we were first to hear about Family Day, but because that day last April created a family story, one worth remembering, talking about and enjoying together.

Susan Ramsay is the Early Literacy Specialist for Hastings, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington. You can contact her at 613-354-6318 (ext 32)

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