Celebrating 20 Years of Giving Books at Birth!
About Read to Me
What We Do
The Read to Me Program encourages parents and caregivers to read, talk, and sing to their baby from birth. The foundation for language and literacy is laid in infancy, through positive and repeated interactions with caregivers. The act of putting books into the hands of families on day one has a tremendous impact on the health and wellbeing of babies. Research also shows that the simple act of giving books in a health care setting shows parents that reading, talking, and singing plays an important role in their baby’s brain and language development. Families are visited at the hospital bedside by a Read to Me! staff member, hospital staff, or volunteer who provides guidance on how to use the books and resources to support their baby’s early literacy through fun, daily activities.
What We Give
The Read to Me bag:
The bag contains high quality baby books and reading resources and is available in English, French, Arabic, Chinese or Mi’kmaq. Books in 21 additional languages are available upon request. Twins and triplets each receive their own bag with their own unique books. Special materials are available for families who are hearing impaired or visually impaired. New titles are selected every two years by a committee of experts in the field of early literacy and early childhood development.
The Read to Me in the NICU bag:
In 2019, Read to Me launched the Read to Me in the NICU bag to provide additional literacy support and awareness of the neurodevelopmental benefits of reading to babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The bag contains two soothing books, along with a resource booklet with specific information to support families with reading to babies in the NICU. The bag is delivered at both the IWK and Cape Breton Regional Hospital NICUs.
How the Program is Delivered
Read to Me is a province-wide program with three full-time, and two part-time staff, and supported by hospital staff and dedicated volunteers across the province. Every day, Read to Me provides free baby books and supportive reading resources to every baby born in Nova Scotia, at the hospital bedside. We could not accomplish this without the support of a network of hundreds of dedicated people across the province: nurses, ward clerks, librarians, volunteers, and the staff of Read to Me work together to ensure that every baby born in Nova Scotia goes home from the hospital with their Read to Me bag. It is this community-based collaboration that has made Read to Me such a success.
Women’s and Children’s or Family Newborn Unit managers and nurses in 9 health centers champion the program in their hospitals
The bag is delivered by nurses, ward clerks, volunteers, or Read to Me staff
Volunteer Coordinators at three hospitals organize teams of volunteers to deliver the bags (suspended during Covid).
Volunteers pack approximately 700 Read to Me bags for distribution each month
The Nova Scotia Provincial Library partners with Read to Me to transport the packed Read to Me bags to each hospital with maternity services in the province.
The Nova Scotia Provincial Library provides Baby’s First Library Card in each Read to Me bag
Each library region provides brochures connecting families to their programs and services
Public libraries across Nova Scotia support reading to babies with books and baby programming
Read to Me evolved from a collaboration between the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Halifax Youth Foundation and the IWK Health Centre, who were looking for ways to address low literacy rates and support early learning in Nova Scotia. To ensure the sustainability of the program, an endowment was built to ensure the gift of books for every baby born in Nova Scotia. Read to Me has received generous donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations, as well as federal and provincial funding. The program is housed and administered by the IWK. Read to Me is a registered charitable foundation and the Read to Me Foundation Inc. Board are trustees of the endowment. The program was launched at 3 sites on January 27th, 2002 at the IWK Health Centre, Cape Breton Regional Hospital and Yarmouth Regional Hospital. Over the next two years, the program expanded to every hospital in the province that offers maternity services. To date the program has given 157,500 bags containing 367,000 baby books.
The Science of Early Literacy
When a baby is read to, they are:
… being held & cuddled
… experiencing visual & auditory stimulation
… experiencing shared attention
… hearing & learning words
… learning about the world around them
When a parent reads to their baby, they are:
… holding & cuddling their baby
… bonding & connecting with their baby
… observing baby’s reactions & learning their cues
… actively engaged in a shared activity with their baby
… responding to baby’s interests
Babies’ brains develop remarkably prenatally and in the first year; this is when brains are most open and responsive. Early experiences influence how the brain grows. The more babies experience, the more connections form between neurons. The diagram below shows how synapses related to language-acquisition form more quickly between birth and 12 months than any other time in our lives.1
Bookgifting at birth boasts results
Research on newborn book gift programs in Britain and the United States shows providing free books and literacy counseling to parents at birth results in increased literacy skills.2
In 2006, Dr. Patrick McGrath began longitudinal research on the impact of the Read to Me program. The evidence shows the program has measurable impact: Parents who received a bag engaged in literacy activities more often and for longer periods than those who did not.3
This research showed:
74.1% of parents who received a Read to Me bag read to their baby 7 days/week, vs 53.5% for those who did not receive a bag at birth
Families who received the Read to Me bag read to their babies more and watched television with their babies less
Parents who received a Read to Me bag read to their babies an average of 21 minutes, vs 12 minutes for those who did not
1. Shonkoff, J. P., Phillips, D. A., & National Research Council (U.S.). (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early child development. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.
2. de Bondt M, Willenberg IA, Bus AG. Do Book Giveaway Programs Promote the Home Literacy Environment and Children’s Literacy-Related Behavior and Skills? Review of Educational Research. 2020;90(3):349-375. doi:10.3102/0034654320922140
3. Veldhuijzen van Zanten, S., Coates, C., Hervas-Malo, M. et al. Newborn literacy program effective in increasing maternal engagement in literacy activities: an observational cohort study. BMC Pediatr 12, 100 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2431-12-100