For the first time since January 2020, the Peterborough Family Literacy Day flagship event returns to Peterborough Square in downtown Peterborough from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, January 28th.
As you read this article, celebrate the simple fact that you can. There are many of all ages who can’t make rhyme or reason of these words, and all those that follow.
How many? According to ABC Life Literacy Canada, the literacy skills of 48 per cent of adult Canadians fall below high school level, with 17 per cent functioning at the lowest level literacy — not able, for example, to read the dosage instructions on a medicine bottle.
While a number of local organizations such as the Trent Valley Literacy Association work toward putting a dent in these sobering numbers, the nine organizations that have again come together to present Peterborough Family Literacy Day actively advocate a get-to-them-while-they’re-young approach, doing so while celebrating the act of reading and all its inherent benefits.
First presented close to 25 years ago, the gathering has consistently seen hundreds of kids, and their parents or guardians, gather for a morning of reading-themed entertainment and activities.
Along with the always-popular Readers’ Theatre that sees local dignitaries read a children’s story from the stage, this year’s event — with the theme ‘Exploring Your Heritage’ — will feature the talents of longtime Durham Storytellers member Heather Whaley, Glen Caradus (Paddling Puppeteers founder, storyteller, and musician), and Anisinaabemowin language speaker Jonathan Taylor, who will read, in both Ojibwe and English, Robert Munsch’s book I Have To Go!.
In addition, as has always been the case, every child in attendance will leave with a free book — something made possible via donated books and continued financial support from the Kinsmen Club of Peterborough.
The tie that binds the event’s nine organizing groups is a commitment not only to encourage parents reading to and with their children, but also to help ensure more of those same kids develop into adults with better-than-average literacy skills and associated benefits.
Among the organizing groups is the Peterborough Public Library, a natural fit considering the number of reading programs it offers for families with kids up to age 12. Karen Clysdale, the library’s community development librarian for children, says the Family Literacy Day event is “a celebration of reading, and learning to read, and enjoying reading.”
“So much of our society celebrates and focuses on exceptional things,” says Clysdale. “We celebrate great athletes. We celebrate really talented singers and performers — people who are head and shoulders above the rest of us in terms of their skill sets. But it’s also important to celebrate wonderful things we all share and we can all do, such as reading.”
“I know there are some families that will come because it’s a free thing to do on a Saturday morning. That’s okay, that’s absolutely what we want. But some of those families don’t have books on their shelves. They might have toys, they might have all kinds of electronics, but they don’t have books. Children can go home (from the event) and have that (free book) and own it. It’s theirs.”
Clysdale adds the annual event “reminds us there’s value in reading. It reminds us that reading is something special and we all have the right to be able to do it. It’s something that we all deserve.”
kawarthaNOW writer Paul Rellinger, who has served as the honorary chair for Peterborough Family Literacy Day for a number of years, says he remains grateful for the opportunity. A voracious lifelong reader, he recalls reading his first non-school assigned book at age 8: a worn copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island gifted him by his father.
“I can’t recall my parents reading to me as a child, but I remember like it was yesterday walking to the library about a mile from our home and applying for my first library card after reading Treasure Island — I wanted more,” says Rellinger, noting his possession of his very own library card was a point of pride.
“The Family Literacy Day event rekindles that memory for me, also reminding me that the curiosity that reading stoked in me was no doubt key in doing what I ultimately did for a living. But more than that, seeing the smile on kids’ faces as they hear a riveting story from the stage or get hold of their free book, that’s the reward. Not only for myself but I’m sure for all the organizing committee members.”
At the Peterborough Public Library, Clysdale gets to see that on a daily basis and she too says she is equally grateful and reminds parents that no child is too young to have a book shared with them. She notes putting aside 20 minutes a day to do a fun literacy-based activity helps families build better relationships, improves children’s academic performance, reduces stress, and increases happiness.
“I remind parents that by singing to your baby, by talking to your baby, by playing peek-a-boo, you’re telling your child that you love them and that you value them and that you’re building their knowledge of the world,” says Clysdale. “If you sit and cuddle with your baby or child when you’re reading a book, you’re giving them a sense of love for literature — that reading books and stories, and sharing them together, is a comforting and important thing.”
“Babies and young children learn by osmosis. If they’re hearing new words, if they’re hearing rhythms — there are some very lyrical picture books — they’re developing. They’re thinking. Studies have shown that babies that are read to tend to pick up a language much sooner, are more able to express themselves, and better understand themselves and the world around them.”
Along with the library, the event organizing committee has representation from Trent Students For Literacy, the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington School Board, the Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre, Peterborough Child and Family Centres, the Peterborough Native Learning Centre, New Canadians Centre Peterborough, and Literacy Ontario Central South (LOCS).
Besides the Kinsmen Club, event sponsors are Compass Early Learning and Care, Peterborough Kawartha Rotary, Frontier College, Teachers For Kids, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the New Canadians Centre, Peterborough Square, and LOCS.
For those who can’t get to the event, Clysdale says a variety of interactive reading programs are available at the library all year round. For more information, visit the Peterborough Public Library’s website at www.ptbolibrary.ca.