Burnaby NewsLeader By Wanda Chow

A program credited with encouraging parents to read to their babies and boosting early literacy needs more than $250,000 to continue after the provincial government cut its funding earlier this year.

Since 2005, Books for BC Babies has provided free kits to every baby born in the province, each of which include a board book, a CD of rhymes and songs and information on library resources and how to promote early childhood development.

In 2009, the program distributed more than 40,000 kits, mainly during the first visit by a public health nurse to a home after a baby’s birth. While organizers have enough materials to produce kits for the rest of the year, they need to raise more than $250,000 in donations and sponsorships to carry on in 2011. Each kit costs about $7 to produce.

But while the materials are an integral part of the program, Edel Toner-Rogala, Burnaby’s chief librarian, stressed it’s not just about the free book.

“Reading to your baby isn’t just about the book,” said Toner-Rogala, of Burnaby Public Library, one of the provincewide partners in the program.

“It’s about exposing your child to language and the importance of speaking to your baby. People underestimate that. Children learn to speak by being spoken to, spoken with.”

It’s an introduction to language skills that is fundamental to all future development and learning, she said, adding when parents read with their children it also builds the bond between them.

“It’s all about getting them ready to read. It’s about recognizing the magic. There’s this sense that these markings on this piece of paper somehow translates to sounds and ideas that I can understand.”

A 2008 survey of parents in the program showed some had not thought of reading to newborns before. As a result of Books for BC Babies, more than 60 per cent were looking at books with their babies more often, 60 per cent were checking out baby materials from the library and 91 per cent planned to attend library programs for parents and infants.

The survey also showed the program impacted parents directly as well, with 50 per cent saying they were using the library more often, and 34 per cent joining the library for the first time.

Toner-Rogala noted that when babies are spoken and read to, benefits such as language skills take place no matter what language it happens in. Books for BC Babies even provides bilingual books in several different languages to promote an improved sense of cultural identity and for non-English-speaking caregivers, such as grandparents, to participate.

For more information or to donate, visit http://books4babies.bclibrary.ca/for-supporters.