CanLearn Newsletter – June 2023

CanLearn News & Updates

Read the June 2023 CanLearn newsletter.

Parents Helping Their Children Learn to Read

Early literacy programs at CanLearn aim to help parents understand what children need to learn to read. The better parents understand the reading process, the more they want to be involved in their children’s early literacy development. Parent involvement can be vital to a child’s success with and enjoyment of reading.

To learn to read, children need:

  • Oral Language – speaking and listening skills.
  • Phonological Awareness – hearing words and sounds in words.
  • Decoding Skills – understanding the letter-to-sound code.
  • Comprehension Skills – knowledge about the world and understanding vocabulary and context.
  • Interesting Books – books they enjoy reading.

Parents can support their children’s oral language development by:

  • Taking time to talk with their child.
  • Limiting screen time.
  • Encouraging imaginary play.
  • Sharing stories, songs, and rhymes on different topics.

Parents can support their children’s phonological awareness development by helping their children:

  • Become aware of rhyming words. (Do “cat” and “hat” rhyme?)
  • Say rhyming words. (What rhymes with “cat”?)
  • Clap or tap syllables into words. (“ti-ger” – two syllables)
  • Say short words in parts – the first sound and the rest of the word. (c-at)
  • Hear and identify all the sounds in short words. (What sounds do you hear in the word “cat”?)
  • Blend all the sounds in short words. (“c-a-t” – What word did I say?)
  • Check to see if the word makes sense.

We want parents to know that when they read with their children at home, these are some things they can do if their child gets stuck on a word:

  • Say each sound.
  • Blend the sounds and read the word.
  • Break the word apart.

We also want parents to know what children should NOT do when they are stuck on a word:

  • Look at the picture.
  • Use only the first letter.
  • Guess what the word might be.

These reading science-based strategies will support children’s decoding skills and help them set up for future reading success.

Having conversations when reading with children is a powerful way to support the development of reading comprehension skills. While reading books together, parents can:

  • Talk about the story’s content.
  • Ask the child to apply the book’s content to the world by connecting events to their own life.
  • Ask more complex questions so the child continues to build their vocabulary, language skills, and knowledge about the world.

Last but not least – parents’ most important mission is to foster the love of reading in their children. When parents pay attention to what their children are interested in and what they like to play with and talk about, they can find books that are just right for their children.

To learn more about literacy programs at CanLearn, visit our Literacy Programs page.
Nada Jerkovic
Manager, Literacy Programs

Autism Acceptance Month: Beyond Awareness

To respect both person-first and identity-first perspectives, we have used both “autistic person” and “person with autism”.

Since April is traditionally considered autism “awareness” month, the CanLearn community would like to continue the conversation to reflect on the idea that autism “acceptance” spans more than one month and is a continual process.

Autistic people make up between 1 and 2% of the population. In Canada alone, this 1 to 2% represents a huge group of neurodivergent people across many ages, ethnicities, and genders, each at a different stage of recognizing and embracing their unique profile of strengths and challenges.

In recent years, the autism community has been calling for a change in language use, which includes moving away from autism “awareness” and towards autism “acceptance.” This essential shift speaks against the idea of neurodivergence, or differences in brains and thinking styles, as something negative.

This shift also reflects the need for greater acceptance and inclusion of people with autism in wider society. Stigma, stereotypes, and other misperceptions of people with autism, including those found in media and popular culture, may contribute to a lack of acceptance of autistic people by others. This, in turn, may negatively impact self-acceptance of one’s autism and contribute to poorer mental health outcomes such as anxiety. Further, misunderstandings between autistic and non-autistic people can be a barrier in everything from social interactions to daily life, creating obstacles and challenges for people with autism and their families.

By contrast, the concept of neurodiversity is a critical piece of acceptance because it both recognizes and celebrates differences in brain wiring. People with autism experience the world in unique ways, with every person on the autism spectrum having a distinct set of strengths, challenges, and ways of seeing the world. This sentiment is beautifully captured in a quote from self-advocate Dr. Stephen Shore: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Finally, it is worth highlighting that autism impacts each family member differently and may be associated with a range of challenges and positive outcomes.

Acceptance can include the following:

  • being open and curious, seeking knowledge, engaging in self-reflection, and appreciating neurodiverse experiences
  • creating space for the voices of autistic people across the spectrum
  • seeking a greater understanding of the neurodiverse community and their experiences (for example, following blogs or social media from people in the autism community)
  • asking neurodiverse individuals what language they prefer (for example, “person with autism” vs. “autistic”)
  • loving and appreciating neurodiverse individuals in your life for who they are
  • acknowledging both the challenges and strengths that come with autism

CanLearn is proud to represent one of many areas of support for neurodivergent learners and their families. Join us in supporting the Autism community’s vision for a neurodivergent future where we can accept and embrace diversity in all its forms.


Aryn Lisitza (she/her) is currently an MSc student in the Counselling Psychology program at the University of Calgary. Kelsey Friesen (she/her) has an MSc in School and Applied Child Psychology and is pursuing her PhD in the same program through the University of Calgary. Jennifer Williamson (they/them) is a recent graduate from the University of Calgary and is an autistic self-advocate.

Learning the Circle Way

“This is how you change the world, the smallest circles first… That humble energy, the kind that says, ‘I will do what I can do right now in my own small way,’ creates a ripple effect on the world.”

― Richard Wagamese, One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet

Over the past year, I was a part of the Indigenous Learning Circle offered by Calgary Learns and led by Lisa L’Hirondelle.

The purpose of the Circle was to engage adult foundational learning practitioners to explore the historical issues shaping the experience of Indigenous learners. The intention was to open hearts, learn and connect.

When I received the invitation to join the Circle, I thought I knew a lot about the issues shaping the experiences of Indigenous learners. I understood why they were reluctant to come to a program and why many were shy or hesitant to express an opinion or idea. I wasn’t one of those people who needed to be convinced that Residential Schools were horrific and that they left a lasting legacy of inter-generational grief, trauma, and loss. I have been aware for a long time that, although diverse, Indigenous learners ‘ views on learning go beyond learning to read and write. I have known that the Circle is a symbol in Indigenous spirituality, gatherings of people, songs, and dances.

Little did I know that this would be one of the most memorable learning experiences I’ve ever had!

We met once a month and talked for an hour and a half.

Hearing the stories of grief and loss that our Indigenous people hold in their hearts and minds would often bring me to the verge of tears. I did not want to cry in front of my colleagues, so I would fight back my tears by biting my lips and fidgeting with something. All I wanted to do after each session was cry and scream and let it all out – my grief, my sadness, my anger. I read somewhere that when we cry, where our tears fall from our eyes can tell us a lot about how we are feeling. If the tears fall from the middle of our eyes, we are feeling anger. If they fall from the left side of our eyes, we feel grief and sadness.

The Circle provided many opportunities to build our understanding and knowledge about the history of colonization, including the residential school system. We were encouraged to read articles and watch Ted Talks and YouTube videos by Indigenous authors, take ownership of our learning and find other colleagues interested in decolonization and process experiences together.

One of the first reading recommendations shared with us was the book Half-Breed by Maria Campbell. I stayed up all night reading it. It lingered in my mind for days. Since then, I have spent hours reading poetry, stories, and novels by Thomas King, Rita Joe, Sherman Alexie, Jesse Thistle, Suzanne Methot, Drew Hayden Taylor, Richard Wagamese, and many others. To understand our Indigenous learners, we must know not simply their history but also their literature. Indigenous literature tells us what Indigenous people experienced throughout history, what they think and feel, how they look at life and death, what they love, what they fear, and how and why they laugh.

Yes, you read correctly – laugh! I learned that humour and laughter are integral to Indigenous identity. If you haven’t done so, listen to the podcast Healing Through Humour.

Lisa, thank you for this fantastic learning journey!

Nada Jerkovic – Manager, Literacy Programs

Happy 44th CanLearn!

CanLearn’s 44th Birthday is today, and we are celebrating with some fun #throwback photos on our social media channels.

February 14th is CanLearn’s Birthday, Valentine’s Day AND International Book Giving Day!

We are celebrating by asking for donations of $44 to help us buy CanLearn families books for their home libraries, access to literacy materials and expanded programming!

We hope you will join us in celebrating the work that CanLearn does to help with literacy skills and reading difficulties.

To make a donation of $44, please visit our donation page at