Calgary Reads (An Early Literacy Initiative) Society
Our Story Why We Exist
At our last distribution day before the holidays of our Calgary Reads Book Bank, in collaboration with the Calgary Food Bank, a mom of seven children stopped by to talk; she had a passion for literacy that was truly inspiring. She told us that she shared the joy of reading with each of her children from the day they were born. She reads to her children daily. She has set up three different areas at home with bookshelves and comfortable seating so that her children can escape into a book whenever they want. At Calgary Reads we call literate-rich environments like she described ‘Reading Places’.
At Calgary Reads, we help get books into the hands of Calgary children who have few or none of their own. Access to books is important because children need to grow up with lots of books to build their brains, develop language skills, get ready for school and to become lifelong readers. A 20-year study across 27 countries found that the “mere presence of books” profoundly impacts a child’s school achievement. Yet in low income neighbourhoods there can be as few as one book for every 300 children. Yes, you read that right . . . and it means that thousands of children in Calgary have not a single book to write their name inside; which also means they can’t keep the book forever, or reread it over and over again until it becomes their cherished favourite.
Our Impact What We Do
Calgary Reads is an early-literacy initiative. Our vision is of a community where all children read with confidence and joy!
Our work is needed because:
- 49% of adult Canadians have low literacy skills
- Alberta’s high school completion rate of 75% is one of the lowest in Canada
- 29% of Alberta’s children arrive at Kindergarten without the strong foundation they need to be successful
It takes all of us (parents, schools and the community) to help children read with confidence and joy because children spend 900 hours in school and 7,800 outside school each year.
While teachers care about reading and help children learn to read, they have lots of responsibilities and competing priorities. Teachers have busy, full classrooms and sometimes children that are under-prepared for school—or, falling behind. We work closely with teachers to decide which children will most benefit from our programs. And, one teacher in each school (where we are active) becomes the coordinator who works closely with us to implement Calgary Reads’ programs, initiatives and events with their students and school families.
Calgary Reads began in 1998 as an early-literacy initiative. Our founders identified the need for reading help in the early grades. And, we are still the only in-school, one-on-one tutor program with trained volunteers. We’ve grown of course. Today, Calgary Reads has lots of effective programs, initiatives, events, resources and professional learning opportunities. We’re a vibrant multifaceted reading movement!
Sadly too, many children in Calgary have no or few books in their homes; we know that access to quality print materials and books is essential to help children build their reading skills and develop a love of books and learning. So, we also help get books into the hands of children who would love to have their own.
Our work is critical because literacy is linked to a range of personal, social and financial benefits, from positive self-esteem to ongoing employment, good health, community engagement, reduced crime rates and even a stronger national economy. Calgary Reads is becoming part of the provincial literacy landscape, bridging the great divide between home and school.
So: we work with schools, the community, post-secondary institutions, business partners and volunteers – because we all have a part to play in helping children become confident and joyful readers!
Watch our Read Aloud video and learn more about the power of reading aloud with the children in your life.
Our Programs How We Do It
In addition to our programs, collaborative events, initiatives and services – we stimulate a ‘reading revival’ movement.
We are most well-known for our signature in school one-on-one tutoring program Read Up! that pairs trained volunteer tutors with a struggling reader in Grade 1 or 2. This tutoring occurs regularly over several weeks. It’s active in lots of schools. Children work with their tutor long-term to reach their appropriate reading level or beyond! As their reading skill develops, so too does their confidence. Most of the tutored children no longer fear reading; they are avid book lovers, seek out new material and start to recommend stories and nonfiction topics to their friends (and tutor!).
Our wee read program has employee teams, and other volunteers trained to read aloud and have conversations with (the same) Kindergarten children, once a week for eight weeks. This is a gem of a program because the training is quick and easy for volunteers and the pleasure for them and the children, so immediate. Imagine little ones who are rarely read to at home. Or, perhaps not read to in English. They have this wonderfully keen ‘new friend’ who comes regularly to read and talk about stories. It’s the perfect early stage to help children see reading and books as a time of great pleasure, caring and learning. Last year almost 3,000 Kindergarten children were read to regularly by 905 trained volunteers including 539 high school students! Now these Kindergarten children are ready for Grade 1 and prepared to build their reading and learning skills.
Our Read Every Day That you Eat initiative is a collaborative project with the Calgary Food Bank. Together, we get books into the hands of children who have none or few of their own. Our Literacy Coaches, regularly on site at the Calgary Food Bank, share reading tips and resources with parents and caregivers so they can help their children with reading at home. And, we invite children to pick their own books from age-appropriate quality ones we provide. It helps each child bond to the book they choose and be keen to read it, or have it read to them. Often we read aloud to a child too! Community members and corporate partners support this work by holding book drives and donating new and like-new books for children age 0-8 to us.
Our Literacy-in-a-Box modules help teachers implement fun, family literacy nights at school. The various themes and activities help build literacy skills, school community, and share ideas with parents too.
Calgary Reads Reading Rally events in schools are large scale celebrations of reading. Groups of volunteers read aloud to small groups of children and a special guest reader shares a story with everyone. Teachers perform a Readers Theatre too. Watch our video and see members of the Calgary Police Service sharing their love of reading and books!
We provide Learning Opportunities for teachers and pre-service educators too. We bring in literacy experts, thought-leaders and other teachers doing great work to help children read with confidence and joy. Our attendees tell us how they value the new research and creative techniques and the opportunity to network and share best practices with their peers.
And, out in the community we have volunteers who help us drop free books for children and families to find, enjoy and keep or share with others. We also host Random Acts of Reading out on the street – so we can share the love of books and inspire others to read . . . especially with the children in their lives. We also make resources available on our website to parents, caregivers, teachers and tutors.
Our Requests What You Can Do
Imagine reading aloud to a small child and seeing their eyes open wide in amazement. You get to share the delight as they talk with you and imagine what comes next in the story or laugh as the hero takes a spill. You may find you revisit your childhood reading memories, to talk about favourite stories and help children discover the wonder of books.
It’s so meaningful too, to know you are inspiring a young reader. Perhaps you’ll help them build their skills for reading. Or, show them that books are such a source of pleasure and new discovery. Imagine becoming a ‘new friend’ to a small child who rarely has someone spend quality time just with them.
There are so many ways you can join us and help! Of course, we do seek funding for our programs and operations and to help us expand our reach and impact.
The volunteer opportunities with us are wonderful too!
And, if you want to do other things to help us – you can. We need both brains and brawn! You can sort and transport books for our annual CBC Calgary / Calgary Reads Book Sale held each May. Or, bring your professional skills and talents to help us occasionally. Or bring a group and help us in the office prepare materials . . . and be part of Book Drops or Random Acts of Reading in the community.
We can promise you’ll have fun helping us, you’ll make a difference in children’s lives and we will be so grateful!
Our website details many one-time, short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities and shares ways to donate. Please join us! www.calgaryreads.com