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Book Mates Helps Connect Children with Reading

Everyone deserves a “book mate” early in life

Everyone deserves a “book mate” early in life and with the help of Book Mates Inc, families can enhance their reading abilities through a variety of family literacy programs.

An Idea in the Making

Almost three decades ago, education professor Beverley Zakaluk had a very simple idea. She would partner her Faculty of Education students with pre-school children in Winnipeg’s core area and together they would go to the library and read books. They would be “book mates.”

“Before I became a professor I was a classroom teacher and I saw that children who had been read to at home were benefitting from the classroom instruction. But a lot of children had not even had a book in their hands before they entered the classroom. Those children often fell behind and once they were behind it was hard to catch up.

For Zakaluk, one of the founders and current board member of Bookmates Inc, now retired from the University of Manitoba, it was easy to see the long-term impact if a child had not thumbed through a book before starting school. That child would quickly feel isolated from the rest of the class, which could lead to lower grades that easily lead to lower graduation rates, less employability and lower lifetime income.

Fast forward 28 years and Bookmates Inc. is going strong. It has developed over a dozen different programs designed to “inspire families and entire communities to grow through the joy of learning,” says Executive Director, Monica Dinney.

Growing Up Green

Through their Sustainable Community Grants program, Assiniboine was able to help Book Mates start up their “Growing Up Green” program. Using nature as a learning tool, the program encourages parents/caregivers and preschool children aged 2 to 5 years to go outside and explore, connecting families to nature and the environment. Something very near and dear to Assiniboine’s heart.

Book Mates Goes Cross Country

Today, Bookmates Inc. trains facilitators in almost every province. They learn how to deliver unique programs that range from the “Book-making Workshop” where children and parents make books together, to “Bookmates Alphabet Soup” where everyone learns about healthy eating through food-related songs and books.

The team, headquartered in Winnipeg, provides about 40 training sessions each year which allows the participants to fan out across the country delivering the Bookmate programs in small-town libraries, First Nations communities and in centres for newcomer families.

Adapted from asterisk June 2012 print version.

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