Today, Jan. 27, 2022, the Read to Me program reached a milestone. Nova Scotia’s early reading promotion program is celebrating 20 years of giving a free bag of books to every baby born in Nova Scotia. The program was launched on Family Literacy Day, January 27th, 2002, at the IWK Health Centre, Cape Breton Regional Hospital and Yarmouth Regional Hospital. Over the next two years, the program expanded to every hospital in the province that offers maternity services.
“We are so lucky in Nova Scotia to be able to reach all children, and help every baby have the best possible start in life with books and reading,” says Read to Me’s manager, Nancy Edgar. “The number one predictor of success in school is having books in the home. It’s about more than just learning language. Reading together builds bonds between parent and child and creates a lasting love of books.”
Read to Me was developed to break the cycle of low literacy in the province with the gift of books for every baby. The foundation for language and literacy is laid in infancy, though positive and repeated interactions with caregivers. The act of putting books into the hands of families on day one has a tremendous impact on the health and wellbeing of babies. Research shows that the simple act of giving books in a health care setting shows parents that reading, talking, and singing plays an important role in their baby’s brain and language development.
The program evolved from a collaboration between the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Halifax Youth Foundation, and the IWK Health Centre, to address low literacy rates and support early learning in Nova Scotia. To ensure the sustainability of the program, an endowment was built to ensure the gift of books for every baby in Nova Scotia. Over the years, Read to Me has received generous donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations, as well as provincial and federal funding.
“Investing wisely in children and families reaps economic dividends as children grow into productive adults”, says Edgar. “Now more than ever, with COVID-related impacts on children’s learning, we see how important it is to start from birth. We’re very thankful to have been able to share books with families for the last 20 years and look forward to continuing to welcome every Nova Scotian baby into the world with the joy of reading together.”
Families receive their bag of books at the hospital, shortly after their baby is born. “We got our first bag when our daughter was born, and the books have become extremely well-loved over the past two years,” says parent of two, Emma McGuire. “We were so looking forward to our second bag when our son was born last November, and we were not disappointed. The books are now a big hit with both of our kids. Receiving these books is a great reminder that it’s never too early to start reading to your babies.”
To date the program has given 157,500 bags containing over 367,000 baby books. Bags are delivered within 24 hours of birth and are available to families in five languages, Arabic, English, French, Chinese and Mi’kmaq. Individual books in 21 languages are also available upon request.