Why the first 5 years REALLY matter for kids’ literacy

Early literacy is a phrase most parents will come across a LOT. But it often comes with a lot of confusion: How early is early? It sounds educational, so surely it’s something that school will look after?

However, children are born ready to learn and the first 5 years are crucial for setting the foundations for life-long learning. In fact, 90 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 has also found that 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 that 26.1 per cent of Queensland children are at risk in one or more developmental area, with Queensland ranked last behind all other states. Globally, Australia ranked 21st from 45 countries.

Thankfully, it’s easy to turn those numbers around and give your child the best start in life… and 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 simply 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, Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council. “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 has founded the First 5 Forever program – a universal literacy program designed to support 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, as well as our regular Storytime and Rhymetime sessions,” says Karen.

Sunshine Coast Council has also added to this program recently, with their innovative Story Seats. 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,” explains Karen, “with each seat design being inspired by a fabulous children’s story.”

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 part of a child’s everyday life – you can go to the park and climb into a story whilst you are there!

“Early literacy might sound daunting, but programs such as First 5 Forever are designed to make it fun and easy for parents,” says Karen. “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.”
You can find a map of the Story Seats here and if you visit a seat, be sure to share and tag the photo with #storyseat.

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 90’s hits 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 just love to engage with you. Always give them chance to reply, and then you can respond to their babble – teaching them the flow of conversation.

To find out more about the First 5 Forever program, simply head down to your local library or visit first5forever.org.au.


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