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05 Jan

Canberra-based program aims to boost children’s literacy levels

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Naomi Thorn and daughter Mylee, 3 have participated in the Let’s Read program for the last three months. Photo: Jay CronanWhile literacy rates are on the decline in Australian schools, work is under way in Canberra to give children key reading skills long before they start school.

Run by charity The Smith Family, the Let’s Read program aims at fostering a love of reading in pre-school aged children.

Its team leader in the ACT, Sally Duncan, said the program works by doing more than just reading stories.

“It’s not always about reading books, but introducing them and increasing the awareness of them to children,” she said.

“The main thing that we’ve found is there are a lot of families out there that don’t have an understanding of the importance of having books or reading in the home.”

Since starting in the ACT two years ago, more than 300 families have been involved with the program, with 23,000 children nationwide benefiting from Let’s Read.

A similar program targeting numeracy levels, Let’s Count, is being rolled out across the ACT in coming months, with training beginning for Canberra-based educators last week.

As National Literacy and Numeracy Week begins on Monday, The Smith Family says thousands of children are entering school without basic skills, causing them to be disadvantaged in future years.

Ms Duncan said learning literacy skills from an early age give them a head-start over their peers who weren’t exposed to reading.

Kambah resident Naomi Thorn has been participating in the program with her daughter Mylee, 3, for the last three months.

She said by reading to Mylee from a young age, other skills have developed.

“I read to Mylee before she could talk, and she showed her interest in words and learned to talk a lot earlier than most children,” Mrs Thorn said.

“There are a lot of other mums who are now becoming interested in the program who have never read to their children before.”

This year’s Literacy and Numeracy Week comes as the most recent NAPLAN results show there has been no significant improvement in literacy and numeracy levels since last year, despite a record amount of government funding.

The 2016 results saw ACT students record their worst results since the tests began in 2008.

While ACT students came first or equal first out of all states and territories in 14 out of 20 areas, it’s down from 18 out of 20 in 2015.

A spokesman for the ACT Education Directorate said while literacy results in the ACT were lower in 2016 compared to last year, it was similar to what is happening at a national level.

“Comparisons between ACT schools and similar schools in other jurisdictions suggest that there is room for improvement in the ACT,” the spokesman said.

“The directorate is committed to working with schools that aren’t performing above the peer-group average.”

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