Little Aaron and Caleb Cochrane were amongst the small throng of preschoolers clustered around the story time carpet at Twentieth Street Junior School Monday morning for a special celebration in honour of Family Literacy Day.
“I’m here because I love to read. I’ve loved to read since I was very little,” special guest reader Pamela Gough, Etobicoke-Lakeshore trustee, told Aaron, 3, Caleb, 19 months, and the other five assembled kids and their moms, before reading Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? “I thought today we would read a book about snow because it’s so snowy outside.”
While the weather blustered outside, the Cochrane brothers snuggled comfortably on mom Mallory’s lap during the reading – a new tradition both boys have come to love since the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) newest Parenting and Family Literacy Centre first opened its doors at the school two weeks ago.
“They just love it,” said Mallory. “The young ones think of it as their school. Aaron starts junior kindergarten in September, so it’s good practice for him – getting ready and into that routine. Here, he can come and play, but then there’s also circle time and story time and snack time. They really like it here.”
Monday’s “15 Minutes of Fun” event in honour of National Family Literacy Day was celebrated at all 172 Parenting and Family Literacy Centres across Ontario – including the more than 75 centres located in the TDSB’s highest density and most culturally diverse school communities.
The goal of the day – as well as that of the centres themselves – is to raise awareness of the importance of early literacy and numeracy, and the integral role parents play in encouraging that learning.
“Family Literacy Day is a national incentive to encourage reading in the home and the importance of parents in early literacy, because they’re the ones that set the example,” said Gaye Zimmerman, a TDSB program officer who supervises 26 Parenting and Family Literacy programs in Toronto. “This year we’re celebrating by having special readers like Trustee Gough come in and read to the children...Everything we do here is literacy and numeracy based, with a focus on families.”
The new Parenting and Family Literacy Centre at Twentieth Street JS is open Monday to Thursday from 8:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. The free, drop-in program at the centre is open to babies and children up to six years of age and their parents/caregivers. No pre-registration is required.
Regular activities at the centre include reading and counting, music and story times, arts and crafts, sand and water areas, play time with toys, healthy snack time, as well as the opportunity to borrow books in different languages from the centre’s library – all programming Principal Rob Hochberg said a lot of local preschoolers didn’t have ready access to before the new centre opened.
“When you look at school data, look at the community, speak with school parents, you get an idea that in order for children to be prepared for kindergarten, they really should be in some sort of program in order to really succeed in school,” he said. “A lot of students weren’t getting that programming, so the first few days the centre was open, I would go out into the playground and speak to parents and encourage them to bring their kids.
“Now, once they come in here once, they come back almost everyday.”
Gough, meanwhile, said she was “thrilled” by the addition to Twentieth Street JS – one of the city’s newly designated model schools for inner cities – and its encouragement of parents to read to their children every day.
The importance of literacy and the love of reading, she added, were lessons her own parents instilled in her as a young girl.
“I read all the time when I was little. My favourite thing to do on Saturdays was to walk up to the library to get another batch of books with my parents,” she said, noting that she carried on the tradition with her own kids as well. “My first outing with my daughter Heather, after we got home from the hospital, was to the book store to stock up on books...Good Night Moon was always a favourite. It just enchanted them.”