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Learning to Read, Reading to Learn - You are Your Child’s First Teacher

You (really) are your child’s best first teacher. Science tells us that the experiences we have in the first years of our lives actually affect the physical architecture of the developing brain. Your child’s brain is built over time, and it needs a good base to support all future development.

Positive serve and return interactions help build and develop a young child’s brain. Imagine a tennis match between you as parent (or caregiver) and your child. Rather than lobbing a ball back and forth over a tennis net, various forms of communication pass between you both - from eye contact, to touch, from singing to simple games like peek-a-boo. These interactions repeated through a young person’s developing years are the bricks that build a healthy foundation for all future development.

Help to build your child’s foundational brain structure:

Read to your children, and make it playful.

Talk all day long with your child.

Encourage singing, chanting, rhythm and rhyme.

Play together at any moment.

The building blocks for literacy are fun! When it comes to preparing your child for reading and learning, research shows that reading aloud is the single most important thing you can do with and for your child.

Read every day that you eat! Start reading aloud to your child when they’re a baby. Your baby will love the sound of your voice and will touch and perhaps taste the book in your hands. Throughout the early years, make it a regular activity for at least 15 minutes each day. Later, when your child is reading, you can take turns reading aloud to each other. Your child’s teacher or local librarian can help you choose appropriate books for every stage of your child’s development and reading level.

Check out these books by age for reading aloud and reading together:

Birth to two years

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Two to four years old

Richard Scarry books

Dr. Seuss books

Flip-up books

The Wheels on the Bus books

Five and six year olds

Robert Munsch books

Paddington Bear or Corduroy stories

Alphabet and I Spy books

Poetry and non-fiction

Our Calgary Reads website,, recommends 50 books for a child to read before they are eight years old. Continue to read to your child even after they can read independently. Nourish an appetite for reading. Opportunities to hear stories above a child’s reading level serves to stretch imagination, expand vocabulary, comprehension and nurture a love of reading.

Why it matters: Literacy is a fundamental life skill

Being a competent reader is linked to: Positive self-esteem, high school completion rates, ongoing employment, financial resilience, good health and lower crime rates. Development of literacy skills from an early age is critical to future success in school and life.

How to read aloud to your child:

Find a comfortable spot away from distractions such as the TV and phones.

Choose a book that you and your child will both enjoy. Your child will often want to make the choice.

Provide a variety of reading material: Fantasy, fairytales, sports, animals, poetry, magazines, information/non-fiction, newspapers and comics.

Hold the book or digital device so you can both see it.

Before you start reading, talk with your child about the title, cover, author and illustrator. Wonder together as to what the book might be about.

Read to your child with enthusiasm. Use your voice to make the characters come alive and play with interesting words.

Spend lots of time talking about the book with your child. Encourage your child to ask questions and do a lot of talking too.
Read and reread your child’s favorite stories.

Support your child as they transition from learning to read… to reading to learn!

Calgary Reads builds connections, strengthens networks, champions, involves and innovates - because we all have a role to play in creating a thriving community where all children can read with confidence and joy! Visit the website for videos and resources to help you build the joy of reading in your child at

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