Calgary Public Library's new program encourages families to read together

The reading kits include various children's books, activity booklets, digital resources, book recommendations and discussion questions.

"Reading aloud is like this magic elixir that does really fantastic things for a child's brain'

The Calgary Public Library started the reading kits program to encourage families to read aloud together. (Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

To celebrate Family Literacy Day on Thursday, the Calgary Public Library launched a new initiative to encourage families to read aloud together. 

At six locations — the Central, Crowfoot, Fish Creek, Nose Hill, Seton and Shawnessy libraries — families can find reading kits that include various children's books, activity booklets, digital resources, book recommendations and discussion questions. Reading kits can also be accessed online. 

"We have a good age-range, and we have expert children's book folks at the library who came together to choose these titles," said Kate Schutz, service design lead at the Calgary Public Library, in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener. 

"We chose some that have diverse characters. That was really important to us."

Schutz said the project has been two years in the making. The reading levels range from picture books for young kids to graphic novels for teenagers. 

According to Schutz, some of the activities included in the reading kits are recipes, art and crafts, and science experiments. 

"It's a pretty fun way to, you know, maybe step away from the screen and explore a book together," she said. 

The importance of reading out loud to children

Schutz said a major motivation behind the reading kits program is a desire from children to hear their parents or caregivers read aloud to them. Schutz referenced a 2017 report from Scholastic Canada that found about 58 per cent of Canadian children aged six to eight, who were no longer read to out loud, wished their caregivers would still read to them.

"That was a really key finding for me, and it made me want to create a way that families could read aloud and share books together," said Schutz. 

A warm glow reflects the wood used in the arch at the main entrance to the library.
Physical readings kits are available at six public library locations, including the Central Library. Reading kits are also accessible online through the library's website. (Richard White)

Steacy Pinney, CEO of the non-profit organization Calgary Reads, said hearing adults read out loud is key to developing a child's literacy skills. 

"Often we don't talk on a daily basis to children using fantastic vocabulary that you find in storybooks. So reading aloud, I like to say, is like this magic elixir that does really fantastic things for a child's brain," said Pinney.

"There's nothing more important than reading to your child."

Pinney founded Calgary Reads more than 20 years ago to provide children with reading material and safe reading spaces. She used to work as a Grade 1 teacher, but she wanted to do more to help children who weren't receiving a great amount of reading experience at home. 

"Being able to understand that reading starts long before a child ever arrives at school, families are the perfect people to introduce children to a love of books," Pinney said. 

"The sooner we start and the earlier, and the more often we read together, the more we are ensuring that our children have incredibly great life outcomes.… People with high literacy just have so many doors open for them."

Fun for the whole family

Schutz said that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Calgary Public Library has seen an increased interest in e-book downloads, which are another good way for families to read together. 

Based on the feedback she's received so far on the reading kits, Schutz said children are not the only ones enjoying them. 

"A lot of parents and caregivers were saying that, you know, they hadn't really thought about reading children's fiction, and they were so surprised the stories were so engaging for them personally and brought back lots of memories," said Schutz.

"[The books] allowed them to be able to talk to their kids about some things that maybe they weren't sure how to bring up."

More information on the family reading kits can be found on the Calgary Public Library website.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener