Community Development

Funding level: $50,000 to $100,000


Can Bedtime Stories Change the World?
Research shows that reading, speaking and singing to tiny children makes a huge difference.
The “Thirty Million Word Gap” is the difference in the number of words that low-income children hear in their early childhood compared to their middle and higher income counterparts (Hart & Risley, 1995). The authors found that low income children had half the vocabulary of their wealthier counterparts at age 3. And the thing is, most don’t catch up.
Research indicates that children who hear fewer words have weaker literacy skills, weaker social-emotional development and are less prepared for school (Lee & Lee, 2016). These negative effects are not confined to a child’s early years as research also suggests that children who are poor readers by the end of grade 3 are more likely to drop out of school before their high school graduation and experience lower pay, inconsistent work and higher levels of poverty throughout their lives (Ogg, Sundam-Wheat & Bateman, 2012). Given that in 2003, Statistics Canada (and others) found that 48% of Canadians sixteen and over do not reach the level of literacy required to meet the demands of everyday life, the time to act is overdue.
The Toronto Foundation’s 2016 Vital Signs report tells us that “Toronto is the child poverty capital of Canada” with recent rates as high as 32% putting many of our children at risk for low literacy. At First Book Canada, our idea is to adapt the widely successful Reach Out and Read program for high needs areas across the Greater Toronto Area by supporting fledgling pilot sites in operationalizing the program and expanding current partnerships to sustainable levels. This US-based program is designed to target preschool children in high needs areas by giving age- and culturally-appropriate books, literacy guidance and local resource information to families at their multiple well-child visits at the doctor’s office. With 25 years of experience in doctor’s offices in the US, Reach Out and Read has been shown to more than double rates of reading aloud by parents (Reach Out and Read, 2014), improve language development (High et al, 2000) and school readiness (Diener et al, 2012). This model is also endorsed by the Canadian Pediatric Society.
Reach Out and Read presents a unique opportunity as doctors see vulnerable children and their parents at frequent, regular health appointments at a time when intervention makes the biggest difference. We will connect families with government and charity- funded local literacy programs. The strong and committed partners that have contributed books and/or resources to our program include Toronto Public Library, Mississauga Public Library, The Children’s Book Bank, with support from St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation.
The money from the AVIVA Community Fund will benefit approximately 10,000 of the GTA’s most vulnerable children and over 40,000 books will be distributed through pilot sites and, with mentorship, new health centres over the next year. By the time the children benefiting from the program are five, they will have a library of at least five books.
While we are beginning in the GTA, it is our hope that in the future this program will spread across Ontario and beyond and receive support from a permanent foundation of public, private and not-for-profit partners.
Reach Out and Read provides more than just books to children; it is a vaccine against low literacy. The money from the AVIVA Community Fund will have a life-long impact on every child who receives books from the program. A vote for this idea is a vote for vulnerable children to be given a chance to succeed.

Broker supported

First Book Canada

Location: Toronto