The Building Blocks of Literacy




February 2, 2024

I always have a book in my hand. I often have two or three that I’m reading at the same time, and don’t get me started on the library on my Kindle. I am a bookworm, self-professed and proud. There are few things that make me happier than finding myself with some free time to read —  to swing open the door to another world. 

Years ago, as my husband and I began planning for a family, my first thought was to build a library of all my cherished books. I could imagine us cozied up, captivated by the magical tales of Tolkien, Lewis, Funke, and Rowling… I looked forward to sharing these stories, and rediscovering beloved characters through the lens of my children's imaginations.

Nintendo had other ideas. My kids didn’t want to sit and listen to me read to them! They wanted me to help find ways to “beat the boss” in whatever video games they were gifted on their birthdays. 

Of course, they had other interests. Our oldest is a tinkerer and would go on and on about the LEGO and Minecraft creations he dreamed up and built. Our daughter is an artist and gives us fleeting glimpses into her heart through the canvas of her artistry and her music. Our youngest could spend hours immersed in imaginative play, constructing intricate racetracks with gravity-defying loop-the-loops!

I can’t understand their lack of interest in books, but I did eventually realize that our common ground was a deep affection for stories, and the magic of words. Nothing could replace the lively dialogues during make-believe play or the discussions fueled by our common love for building, creating, and learning (...and board games. Family game night… now there’s some conversations!)

In the most recent Beyond the Bell episode, Chantelle talks about literacy with Jonathan Rajalingam. Jonathan is the Elementary Program Coordinator at Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. He backs a team of consultants, coaches, and itinerant teachers offering school support in curriculum and Ministry of Education policies. Chantelle and Jonathan offer insight into how parents and caregivers can foster literacy skills at home.

Jonathan: The most important thing is to read and write in front of your child. Show them that reading and writing provides you enjoyment and helps you get stuff done. It can be anything! You don't have to sit with a big novel, “so I'm reading properly,” whatever that means. It can be writing emails, or grocery lists, and reading the newspaper. If we demonstrate to our children that there's purpose and enjoyment in reading, when the learning in school gets difficult, our children might realize, they actually really enjoy it.”

Chantelle: I think it's important for families to embrace that … Look for recipes together online; read the instructions and the ingredients. Celebrate those opportunities to learn and to interact with the world together, right? 

Jonathan: Yes! Play board games and card games, which may not seem like literacy instruction or language instruction, but as you argue the rules of a board game, you're learning to comprehend and compose your argument. You're free to go out and buy workbooks and work through phonics, but you don't need to do that. Time spent playing games, reading together, writing together, cooking together, builds literacy skills, builds communication.

Chantelle: Importantly, it provides a lot of opportunity for relationship and connection.

Looking back, I've realized that even though my kids didn't embrace my beloved books, we found another way to connect through stories. It might not be the classic bedtime tales I imagined, but instead, we connect by playing games together, working on projects, and even cooking together. All of these things helped build communication and learning skills. 

Literacy is also more than workbooks and lessons; it's about sharing moments and creating connections. Our family story is unfolding through these everyday activities, and my most favourite tale so far is this one that we're telling together.

Listen to the full audio version on Beyond the Bell Podcast below: