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December 7, 2020

Early Words/Premiers mots

The Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation is thrilled to introduce Early Words/Premiers mots, our program that delivers early literacy support to families through the professionals who work with them.

We are starting the Early Words/Premiers mots program by working with healthcare providers, since they are a universal point of contact for families with little ones. The concept is this: families who take their young children in to see the doctor or public health nurse will leave with resources to help them build early literacy skills at home.

Our goal is to drive lasting change in how professionals working with young families think about brain development and its relationship with becoming a confident reader. Lasting change happens when programs address community need, which is why we work alongside healthcare leaders to adapt the Early Words program for each community. We believe this will help all children to get a strong start on the road to reading.

A child’s reading journey begins at birth

Children who grow up in word-rich environments are better prepared to learn to read once they reach school age. Talking, singing and reading to babies and young children helps their brains to develop the foundation they need to learn to read when they are older.

In Canada, approximately one-quarter of kids start Grade 1 without fundamental skills they need to learn to read. Many never catch up.

Unfortunately, not all families have access to resources to help their children build early literacy skills. This situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with libraries, early years centres, childcare centres and other supportive community resources closed or operating with limited capacity.

However, almost all families access the healthcare system. That is why the Early Words/Premiers mots program is beginning there.

Getting started with Early Words/Premiers mots in Nunavut


The Early Words/Premiers mots initial location is in Iqaluit, Nunavut, where it is delivered by the public health nursing team. So far, more than 200 visits have taken place with families with children age five and under. The families have received early literacy tips along with a book in Inuktitut, English or French.

“Healthcare providers can be highly effective advocates to help families build early literacy at home,” said Dr. Holden Sheffield, Chief of Pediatrics, Qikiqtani General Hospital, Iqaluit. “The Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation is helping us build capacity and support our patients through the development of a plan of action and resources. With their passion, relationships in the healthcare sector and the community along with commitment to evidence-based, practical solutions, we have the opportunity to transform how we support early literacy development in our patients.”

In addition to the healthcare teams in Iqaluit, we are grateful for the input and support from community advisors including the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Ilitaqsiniq, Department of Education Early Years staff, publisher Inhabit Media, Inhabit Education Books, and the Friends of the Iqaluit Centennial Library, among others.

Thank you to our funders

The Early Words/Premiers mots program is generously supported by the RBC Foundation, The Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation, the Azrieli Foundation, and Kids Brain Health Network.

How you can get involved

We are expanding the Early Words/Premiers mots program and are seeking interest from communities and healthcare providers who would like to participate.

The Early Words program provides tools and resources, while health care leaders work with us to decide what literacy support is most needed in their community.

To learn more, visit our Become an Early Words Site page, or contact us at, or visit We look forward to hearing from you.