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April 9, 2021

Read, Speak, Sing: Promoting early literacy in the healthcare setting

More about Early Words
A recently released position statement from the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) urges physicians and other healthcare providers to incorporate early literacy in their daily practice. The statement’s principal author, Dr. Alyson Shaw, recently sat down with CPS’s Francine Charbonneau to talk about why early literacy and healthcare go hand in hand.
We are pleased to share their conversation.
Francine Charbonneau: Why is literacy a pediatrics issue at its core?
Dr. Alyson Shaw: Learning to read starts from birth. In those first few years of a child’s life, that’s a time of rapid brain development and babies need to hear lots of words and lots of language, even before they learn to speak, to help build those neural networks and to support future learning. They need to be surrounded by words and language so that when they’re ready to go to school, they’re ready to read and write and succeed in school. Typically, children spend the first few years of school learning to read and spend the rest of their lives reading to learn, so it’s really important that we set them up for success.
FC: Wonderful! And so, which families should be targeted for counselling on early literacy?
AS: We know that families want to have advice from their healthcare providers about child development and learning, and they want to feel like valued partners in their child’s learning. So really all families can benefit from advice on early literacy. But the type of advice and suggestions that we make can be tailored to an individual family’s situation. For example, some families may not know that they can look at books and read with their children before they can talk. Or they may not feel comfortable with reading themselves with their previous reading experiences. So they need to know that there are other ways to help their child develop language and a love of learning besides reading books. They need to know that telling stories and singing songs together are other ways to surround their child with language, and that it doesn’t matter which language or way they choose as long as they’re having fun together with their child.
FC: And so, for your colleagues, can you give us a couple of examples of how this guidance would be incorporated into a typical well-baby checkup?
AS: Providing guidance about literacy doesn’t have to take up a lot of extra time. It can be as simple as asking families if they’ve had a chance to start looking at books with their baby, and that can be as simple as incorporating that into your conversations about other routines like sleeping and mealtime.
FC: This brings me to my next question. This new iteration of Read, Speak, Sing definitely has a greater emphasis on singing and storytelling than the previous version. So can you tell us a bit about why that was?
AS: In this updated version, we wanted to emphasize that not all literacy activities need to involve books. Yes, books are a great tool for facilitating language between parent and child but singing and storytelling are, too. Some cultures have a very vibrant tradition of storytelling and that’s important to remember for our families. Because of the repetition and the musical phrases, singing songs can make words and rhymes come alive as well.
View this conversation on video below.

Read the new CPS position statement on early literacy: Read, Speak, Sing: Promoting early literacy in the health care setting.
Learn more about the CPS’s guidance on the benefits of reading, speaking and singing to babies from birth: For lifelong health, read, speak and sing to your baby from birth: Paediatricians