henrybooksHere’s a great story, “Play time helps boost child literacy,” from the online London (Ontario) Free Press, about the links between the play of babies and toddlers and pre-literacy skills. Most of us who’ve been involved in pre-literacy skills and young children have known this stuff for a while, but each generation of new parents doesn’t have a clue how literacy happens, needs to learn it, and we librarians need to take a major role in spreading those facts around. Here’s a quote:

“Play is important because right now they’re developing emergent literacy skills,” said Patti Prentice, a literacy specialist with the Ontario Early Years Centre. “Before (children) can read or write, they need to have skills.”

Community agencies in London are making literacy a priority, after a report found one in five Londoners lack literacy skills needed to understand a simple drug label.

Babies are born with a set number of brain cells. As they play, sing songs and have face time with a parent or caregiver, their brain cells make connections that set the foundation for early literacy.

Experts say those connections are made between birth and three years of age.

“They have to build them all and then it’s a case of use them or lose them,” said Prentice.

The article is accompanied by a sidebar, “Early Literacy Games,” listing simple activities parents and other adults can do to enhance babies’ and toddlers’ pre-literacy skills. For example, here’s how to build babies’ awareness of sounds, AKA phonological awareness, one of the basics of literacy:

Age: Up to three months

—Imitate the noises your baby makes with his or her mouth, including kissing sounds, tongue clicking, “raspberries,” suck in air quickly and blow it out quickly.

Age: Three to six months

—Fill small containers with different things, such as dry beans, rice, bells or marbles. Be sure the lid is on tightly. Give baby a shaker and say, “shake, shake, shake.” Then give the baby other containers. Try to imitate the sounds and respond when the baby does the same.

I wish they broadcast stuff like this as part of halftime at the Super Bowl, or in place of commercials during shows like 24. But I don’t think they ever will, so it’s up to folks like us to let adults know how children gain the skills they need to learn to read. Remember to get the pre-literacy message out to all the parents, grandparents, and others you encounter who work with kids under three, and build that link between literacy and the library.