Opinion Editorial

The joy of reading

These days, you often see parents and their young children crowded around a bright screen -- a smart phone or tablet or television -- viewing videos or looking at photos. It is a shared sensory experience that can be entertaining, educational and enlightening.

However, how often do you see a young parent sitting quietly with their children reading a book? Sadly, it is less common than ever to see a mom or dad flipping the pages of a book, perhaps taking on the voice of the character to help the story jump from those pages and make a lasting impression on rapt young onlookers.

Karen Thorington, the chair of the advocacy committee for Orillia's Canadian Federation of University Women, knows the importance of reading and hopes to draw attention to that vital skill this week which is National Literacy and Numeracy Week.

She believes parents are vital to ensuring young Canadians are literate and that starts when they commit to reading to their children. Here's why that's so important, she explained: "By listening to a story, children learn how words correspond with illustrations, how to read with expression, and develop a rich vocabulary."

There may be no greater a gift a parent can give their children than the ability to read and a love of reading. And in Orillia, we are fortunate in that we have a beautiful, modern, well-stocked public library with tremendous resources and programming. It's an ideal place to carry on a reading tradition that starts at home. Hopefully, it will also be encouraged and supported at school but it all starts at home and it's important to remember that kids model the behavior of their parents.

The ability to read goes much further than enjoying a good book; it's a crucial skill in today's workplace, in today's digital marketplace and in the wired world we all inhabit. However, according to Statistics Canada, almost half of Canadians have some difficulty with reading materials encountered in everyday life. In addition, the Conference Board of Canada reports that four in 10 Canadian adults have inferior literacy skills that prohibit them from being competent in most jobs in our modern economy. Those low literacy skills impede an enterprise's ability to compete, they slow productivity, inhibit innovation and are costly impediments to success.

Thorington is absolutely right when she says literacy is "not just a gift or a privilege. It's a fundamental life skill." It's why Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen once said that "literacy is freedom."

So, parents or uncles or aunts or grandparents: take up the mantle. Find an age-appropriate book and read to the young people in your life. Encourage them to read. Make it fun and don't criticize them if they have trouble with certain words. Your encouragement today will be transformed into empowerment tomorrow. It is a responsibility we all need to take seriously.

And if you need some help, the only shame would be in not seeking it. Contact the Orillia and District Literacy Council (705-327-1253 or odlc.ca) for free tutoring and assistance.

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