Why the first five years REALLY matter for early literacy

‘Early literacy’ is a phrase most new parents will come across a lot. Often it comes with confusion too. How early is early? It sounds educational, so maybe it’s something schools take care of…?

In actual fact, children are born ready to learn and the first five years are crucial for setting the foundations for life-long learning. Ninety per cent of a child’s brain development happens in the precious first five years of life, and a baby’s brain forms around 700 new neural connections every second! Research suggests a child’s success at age 10 can be linked to the amount of conversation they hear in the first three years of life.

Data from the Australian Early Development Census found 24.7 per cent of Queensland children are at risk in one or more developmental area. The state ranked last behind all other states and only ahead of the ACT and Northern Territory. Thankfully, turning those numbers around and giving your child the best start in life is easy… It’s all to do with early literacy!

This doesn’t mean tutoring or flashcards or spending hours reciting the alphabet. Early literacy is about exposing your child to language and engaging with them in conversation and literacy from birth.

Parents matter!

Young children learn best from the people closest to them. Every time you chat, sing, play or communicate with your child you are exposing them to new words, sentences and the structures of language.

“There are many fun ways to introduce words and literacy to your baby, from a very early age,” says Karen Gawen, Sunshine Coast Council’s Young People’s Services supervisor.

“Singing songs or nursery rhymes, telling stories, or simply chatting about things as you go about your day are all great ways to help build the foundations for future learning.”

First 5 Forever

To assist parents with this development, Queensland State Government established the First 5 Forever program. It’s a universal literacy program with the aim of supporting stronger literacy environments for children aged 0–5 and their families.

“Through the First 5 Forever program, the local library has a huge range of free resources available to parents today, with advice on how to bring early literacy into everyday life,” Ms Gawen says. “There are also regular Storytime and Rhymetime sessions.”

Sunshine Coast Council has also added to this program with its innovative Story Seats adventure. These eye-catching seats have been purpose-built to provide families with a fun space that actively encourages you to sit and talk, read and play together.

“We’ve placed a unique Story Seat in 10 of the most stunning local parks across the region,” Ms Gawen says.

“The images on each seat are created by a well-known children’s author or illustrator, designed to engage little ones and their families with the local environment and to foster their imagination.”

These gorgeous Story Seats not only help with a child’s early literacy by being a fun place to read together, but they also make books, imagination and storytelling part of a child’s everyday life. You can go to the park and use these characters, colours and themes in each illustration to create stories and songs.

“Early literacy might sound daunting, but programs like First 5 Forever make it fun and easy for parents,” Ms Gawen says.

“We believe it takes a village to raise a child, so we’ve made sure the library is filled with activities to support parents and caregivers in this area.”


Tips for making early literacy fun

  • Make a book more exciting by adding props to tell the story.
  • Invite soft toys along to listen to the book and turn the pages.
  • Try nursery rhymes with actions to get your child involved. Songs such as ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ or ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’, are fun to share and super-easy to do!
  • Put the books down and sing a song instead! Babies love the sound of your voice, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune. If you can’t remember any nursery rhymes, your favourite hits from when you grew up will do too!
  • Have a ‘conversation’ with your baby – chat about the weather, the colour of the sky, the leaves on the trees. Baby isn’t fussy; they love to engage with you. Always give them a chance to reply, and then you can respond to their babble – teaching them the flow of conversation.

Find out more about the First 5 Forever program by visiting your local library.

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