Chapter 1 Family Literacy section one: what is family literacy?

Family Literacy Web Resources


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Family Literacy Web Resources

Canada’s National Adult Literacy Database has a Family Literacy resource section, which provides many materials that can be downloaded. Some of the items available on this site include guides, handbooks and magazines. Scroll down and locate the link titled Family Literacy Materials to locate the resource section.

The Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, supported by the Center for Applied Linguistics, Abt Associates, American Institutes for Research (AIR) and World Education, provides workshops, technical assistance, research information, and a web site with resources for EL Civics, health literacy, best practices, and fact sheets about English language learning.

Educational Development Center (EDC) contains several online resources such as publications, articles, and Web pages on Adult and Family Literacy.

Florida Family Literacy Resource Guide Website: This comprehensive website is jam-packed with excellent resources.

Specializing in family literacy research, The Goodling Institute directs the searcher to 1) an annotated bibliography of family literacy research alphabetized by author and identified by category; 2) an agenda of research issues; 3) professional development courses at Penn State; and 4) the Center for the Book with lesson plans and book lists.
The National Center of Applied Linguistics offers information and materials around language and cultural issues from K-12 to adult.

The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) site highlights research, publications, teaching and training (Circle Study Guides), and issues of Focus on Basics publications that can be downloaded free of charge.

Ohio Literacy Resource Center contains many resources for family literacy, three of which are: Family Literacy Resource Notebook, The LINCS Special Collection on Family Literacy,, and Eureka!, , searchable database of books, teaching strategies, web sites, and lesson plans. The Family Literacy Resource Notebook contains information for family literacy providers and organizations who are interested in learning more about family literacy.

Digests, fact sheets, and monographs going back to 1966 are now available on the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) site.

The Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) has a search capability with five options: Materials, both research and curricular; Global for web sites in the LINCS network; America’s Literacy Directory; List for archived discussion on NIFL online discussion groups; and Grants. To join a discussion group/list for family literacy and for technology related issues go to To join one or both, enter your name, e-mail address and select the discussion groups/lists you are interested in.

The National Center for Family Literacy: "A non-profit organization supporting family literacy services for families across the United States through programming, training, research, advocacy, and dissemination." The policy and advocacy link provides legislation information.


Family literacy describes a variety of activities that range from a parent reading and discussing a story with a child to a formal program with many coordinated services to help both adults and their children. Many organizations offer activities involving parents and children without realizing that they are involved in family literacy. For example, some hospitals and clinics utilize waiting rooms as a place to convey oral and printed information on nutrition, health, and hygiene for parents and their children while providing toys and books for the children. These are family literacy activities that could become a program with the addition of a defined goal and some leadership direction. No two programs look alike. Family literacy takes place in libraries, community centers, workplace sites, and jails as well as in school classrooms. In order to recognize family literacy in its many forms, descriptions of several programs are included in this chapter with information on how to contact them for more details.

Proliteracy, formed by the merger of two national tutoring programs—Laubach and Literacy Volunteers of America—has incorporated family literacy components in some local programs.

Information about Proliteracy can be found at

Volunteer-based Programs

Project: LEARN of Summit County offers one-on-one tutoring, small-group classes, and computer-assisted education. Classes include reading, writing, math, life skills, computers, workplace skills and family literacy. During 2003, Project: LEARN, which has been in existence since 1984, had 175 active volunteer tutors who worked with more than 450 students in small group classes and one-on-one tutoring. Project: LEARN is funded by the United Way and other grants, gifts, and donations. It serves the functionally non-literate–-those adults whose literacy skills are assessed at below a fifth grade level. Project: LEARN programming is free of charge. Students are asked to purchase books at cost if payment is not a hardship.

Project: LEARN attempted to incorporate the families of learners in a family literacy component called L.I.F.T. (Literacy Involves Family Togetherness). Students brought their children aged 3-12 to class with them, and a special area was set up in the Project: LEARN center. The children participated in facilitated learning activities while their parents were tutored. After tutoring, parents joined the children for PACT (Parent and Child Together) activities. They were also given activities to do at home.
Unfortunately, the L.I.F.T. program did not last long. One reason was space limitations. The exuberant children were distracting to the tutoring lessons going on in the same area. Another reason was a lack of funding for a facilitator. (The project had originally been set up by VISTAs—Volunteers in Service to America.)

To contact Project: LEARN of Summit County call 330-434-9461 or visit

Reading Is Fundamental

Though family literacy can be defined in many ways, the clearest “picture” one could draw would be one of a parent and child reading together. Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is a national reading program begun in the 1960s that delivers free books to children (infancy through high school) who are hard to reach: those in hospitals, immigrant labor camps, homeless shelters, and other crisis facilities. But RIF operates in traditional settings such as libraries and schools as well. Besides free books, RIF provides programs and activities designed to promote reading as fun and enjoyable, because one of its primary goals is to help children become lifelong readers. From their many years in the field, RIF workers have come to know the importance of involving parents in their children's reading. Since RIF programs are run by local volunteers, they are tailored to meet the needs of the local community.

To learn more about the Reading Is Fundamental program visit their website at:


F.Li.P. (Family Literacy Project) was a successful family literacy program implemented at Forest Creek School in Texas. To promote reading as a family, a weekly goal was set. Infants and preschoolers were included. Families received points for the number of minutes they read aloud with each other every week. A record sheet was filled out and sent in to the school each month, and celebrations were held at school to acknowledge the number of minutes read by all.


The Secretary of State in Illinois started Family Reading night in conjunction with Family Literacy Month in November. In November one day is set aside for family reading activities. More information about Family Reading Night along with suggestions for activities can be found at:

Correction Facilities

Even though inmates are usually separated from their families, innovative family literacy programs have begun to appear in penal institutions. Georgetown University sponsors a family literacy program for inmates of the District of Columbia known as the D.C. Family Literacy Project. The project helps incarcerated parents develop the literacy of their children through enhancing their own literacy-building and parenting abilities. Parents learn new ideas in child development and family literacy -- such as reading to children, storytelling, expressive arts and crafts, and put them into practice during special family visits. The project is a collaboration among the Georgetown University Law Center, the D.C. Public Library, and the D.C. Department of Corrections. The use of children's books allows parents a chance to bond with their children in a pleasant environment of song and story. They also experience personal success in reading, sometimes for the first time. To learn more about the D.C. Family Literacy Project go to:

Bringing Family Literacy to Incarcerated Settings: An Instructional Guide
The significant pieces of the Albany City School District model were the development of a life skills/parenting class and a structured time for incarcerated parents to be together with their children. The activities that occur during the family’s time together have a literacy theme and are appropriate to the learning level of both parent and child. Additionally, New York State was a recipient of a federal Even Start Family Literacy Women in Prison grant. This two-year grant funded a family literacy program at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. The program integrated the typical Even Start components of adult literacy, early childhood education and parenting education. Participants engaged in a 30-hour-a-week program for a six-month period. The women spent three hours daily on their own adult education, and another three hours on parenting, early childhood education, and children’s literature. The Bedford Hills program provided transportation each week for children and other family members to visit the mothers, read, play, and do age-appropriate learning activities together in a colorful, pleasant playroom. Four inmates and one civilian teacher/manager taught the educational and parenting programs. The four inmate teachers, who had excellent credentials but no previous teaching experience, were trained in teaching techniques and curriculum development. A corps of civilian volunteers from the surrounding area augmented the teaching staff in order to provide a low student/teacher ratio. Student interests drove the instruction with materials provided according to students’ decisions—books, magazines, and newspapers.

Although direct federal funding ended, the project has obtained alternative funding to continue. Two existing Even Start Family Literacy Partnerships (Sodus-Lyons Even Start and Yates-Ontario Even Start) expanded their projects to the incarcerated setting. For more information, contact Bedford Prison Ministry

247 Harris Road
Bedford Hills, NY
Tel: 914-241-3100
Doctor’s Offices

Born to Read

Many state and local libraries have expanded their programming to include parents and children together. Libraries in Ohio (and beyond) offer partnership and collaboration to support family literacy. It is evident that reaching at-risk parents, most of whom are not library users and may not be able to read themselves, is difficult. As a response to this challenge, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), produced a program called Born To Read.

This program, started in 1995, endeavors to bring together health care providers and librarians to reach out to new and expectant parents to help break the cycle of low literacy. The hope is that together, health care providers and librarians can help parents improve their reading skills, impress upon them the importance of reading to their children, and promote awareness of the health and parenting resources available in libraries.

Reach Out and Read

The Reach Out and Read (ROR) program ( began in Boston in 1992. ROR involves pediatricians, other professionals, and nonprofessional members of the community in supporting parents to lay the foundations for literacy during their children's first years of life. ROR uses the pediatric office or clinic to bring together young families, pediatricians, volunteers, and children's books. Distinctive features of the program include volunteers who look at books with children in pediatricians' waiting rooms. Pediatricians talk with parents about the importance of reading aloud and give each child a new, developmentally and culturally appropriate children's book at each visit to the doctor's office.


Library staff dedicated to helping children and adults offer a large variety of services and programs that promote family literacy. Public libraries are accessible, familiar, welcoming sites for family literacy activities.

Many libraries have some type of reading program in place, as do some schools and other community organizations. Reading programs are very creative and can easily be adapted to the individual community. Some, for example, might have a story hour in both Spanish and English. Most use some type of incentive to get children to read, and more are attempting to get adults involved. Traditionally, many children's reading programs involve only the children. But the push for family literacy has prompted many libraries to expand their efforts to include the family.
Local libraries are broadening their literacy efforts as well. The West Hill Branch of the Akron/ Summit County Public Library expanded the library's Summer Reading Club to a Family Reading Club. The library has also created several "intergenerational" literacy activities. One was called Grandpair of Readers, in which children were given a kit of literacy activities to do with their grandparents. They received stickers for tasks completed and prizes were given. Family Book Bingo was a similar literacy program for children and their parents. The library's story hour was also moved to retirement communities in order to expose seniors and children to each other.

The historic Stinson Memorial Library located in deep southern Illinois designed and delivered multicultural intergenerational literacy experiences for the residents of Union County. In 1993, the library district applied for and received grant funding for Project CLEARR (Community Literacy Experience: Accessing the Riches of Reading). The goal was to assist those “displaced breadwinners” in strengthening their family life while improving their job and literacy skills. CLEARR supported these activities:

• Provided a bilingual literacy coordinator to the targeted families.

• Formed an advisory council comprised of academic, social service, education, and community agencies.

• Developed strategies to recruit and retain participants.

• Establish a first-step, high-interest, low-difficulty vocational collection.

• Held family reading events that engaged local craftspeople, artisans, professionals, trades people, and business owners to present workshops on the knowledge, skills, and vocabulary needed in their occupations.

Project CLEARR hosted vocational workshops in the library and at business locations. The workshops focused on the words and phrases common to each occupation presented. Project staff developed a glossary of terms that would enable participants to understand and access further employment in these lines of work. Terms and definitions appeared on large signs in English and Spanish, were used during workshops, and were provided to participants in workshop materials. Workshops attempted to engage full family participation. Sometimes, the children attended a story hour on a related topic in one part of the library, while the adults attended the workshop in another. For instance, the children read the story of Paul Bunyan and his mighty ax while the adults were learning “How to Make a Chair from a Tree.” Themes ranged from interviewing skills to money matters, from basket-making as a home-based business to the art of stained glass.
The regular attendance averaged 40 adults with a few workshops drawing as many as 70 participants (both English and Spanish-speaking). Families connected on the important issues of jobs, education, and literacy enrichment. Displaced workers enjoyed learning with their spouses and children, and children enjoyed sharing a learning experience with their parents.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

This library has sponsored several innovative and successful family literacy projects. Three are described below.

Beginning With Books

Into the children’s room of a branch library burst lively boys, ages 7, 8, and 9, and their youthful mother. Alex’s face lights up as he catches sight of a tall, grinning man across the room, the volunteer who has been his reading partner for 2 years. John’s response to his volunteer reader is more restrained, but he soon is happily choosing books from the shelves for tonight’s READ TOGETHER time. Thomas, the youngest, stops to pet the live rabbit by the librarian’s desk. But when a third volunteer, his reader, pulls a copy of Zelinsky’s Rumplestiltskin out of her canvas bag, he is happy to settle down and listen to the story, one of his favorites. Once the boys are occupied, their mother goes to another part of the library to meet with her literacy tutor for 90 minutes. This scenario has been repeated twice a week for 3½ years. The mother had enrolled in an adult literacy program, in part to be able to help her boys with their schoolwork, but before READ TOGETHER was established by Beginning with Books in 1987, her frequent cancellations of tutoring sessions had led one tutor to quit. Now that she can bring her boys with her and knows that they are having valuable experiences with books and literacy-related activities, she rarely misses a session. “My boys won’t let me cancel,” she says, laughing. “They’re always asking me, ‘Is today liberry day?’” Her own reading skills are rapidly improving, her tutor reports, and her sons, two of whom had repeated first grade, are now all enthusiastic readers. The oldest son’s volunteer reported that at one session, when he suggested they play a game, Alex kept saying, “Just one more story.”

Another mother has been bringing her son and daughter, now 6 and 4, and her 8-year-old niece to READ TOGETHER for 2 years. The data analyst Air Force Reserve captain who reads to the niece marvels over the improved language skills of the formerly withdrawn child. The mother reports that the 6-year-old has cracked the literacy code. “We used to spell things we didn’t want him to understand,” she recently said. “Can’t do that anymore. He figures out the words.” At a party for READ TOGETHER families and volunteers held in the library’s community room, her younger child ignored the cake and entertainment and instead kept urging her volunteer to take her across the hall to the children’s room so they could read stories.

Gift Book Program

The initial goal of the Gift Book Program was to get the very best children’s books into the hands of parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers—parents who had little money to spend on books and were unlikely to visit book-stores or libraries—and to give them the facts about the importance of reading to children. The decision was made to work through an agency that was already serving such families and so the county health department, whose well-baby clinics provide free health care to many families of extremely limited means, was selected. A grant in 1984 from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, matched by local foundations, allowed the program to reach 1,000 families in the clinics with packets of four first-quality picture books and individual counseling on reading to children. Parents were also urged to borrow books from the public library. A six-month follow-up survey of 394 families showed a significant increase reported in time spent reading to children (the number reporting daily read-aloud sessions rose 22% as compared to a pre-program questionnaire) and in time spent by children looking at books alone (56% were reported as looking at books several times a day, up from 21% before receiving the books). Library use remained miniscule among this population, however. More than a few, when answering the question “Do you borrow library books for your children?” replied, “No, we have our own books.” As a result, the gift packet was modified to contain three books and an attractive coupon to be redeemed for a fourth book at any branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In addition to the Health Department, the program now works with homeless shelters, a food bank, day care centers, Head Starts, teen parenting programs, and other agencies that serve low income families. An evaluation study that compared a small group of kindergarten children who had received book packets at the age of one with a matched control group showed that children who had received the books were now more likely to ask their parents to read to them every day (81% vs. 64% of the control group), and their parents were more likely to do so (55% vs. 21%). The study concluded that participants provided more literacy experiences in the home for their children, visited the library more often, and provided more reading materials. Moreover, the children whose parents had received the gift packet were perceived by their teachers as having higher reading ability than children of parents who did not receive the packet.

Raising Readers

A different model of family literacy programming is supplied by Raising Readers Parent Clubs, run by Beginning with Books. At each weekly club meeting, members receive an appealing book (usually hardcover) and are encouraged to spend 15 minutes a day or more reading to their children. The why, how, and what of reading aloud are discussed, with the parents learning from each other as well as from the group leader. The new book is always read aloud, which increases the confidence of those with poor reading skills, and a typical read-aloud session with a preschooler is modeled. No rigid formula or list of do’s or don’ts is presented. Instead, parents are urged to be responsive to their children’s reactions. The clubs usually meet in schools, community agencies, day care centers, libraries, and at many other sites. When the group meets in a library, a tour of the children’s room is arranged for the first meeting. Parents eagerly sign up for library cards after the tour, and most take home each week not only the gift book, but also library books that have been displayed and described at the club meeting.

Here are a few additional suggestions for educators, many of them developed and used successfully by teachers:

• Distribute packets of appealing paperback storybooks at kindergarten orientation or at parent conferences and share with parents information on how regular listening to stories benefits their children. If publicized in advance, the packets will serve as an incentive for parents to come out for these important meetings.

• Recruit high school volunteers to read to children in the school library during parent meetings. This free child care and enrichment will improve parent attendance. Ask a teacher or librarian knowledgeable about sure-fire children’s books to conduct a training session for the volunteers on the basics of reading aloud and choosing appropriate books.

More information about the Beginning with Books program can be found at and in these articles:

Friedberg, J. B. (1989). Making today’s toddler tomorrow’s reader. Young

Children, 44, 13–16.

Friedberg, J. B., & Segel, E. (1990). The land where the wild things are:

Programs of Beginning with Books. United States Board on Books

for Young People Newsletter, 15, 26–27.

Jongsma, K. S. (1990). Intergenerational literacy. The Reading Teacher,

43, 522–523.

Locke, J. L. (1988). Pittsburgh’s Beginning with Books project. School

Library Journal
, 34(6), 22–24

McIvor, M. C. (Ed.). (1990). Family literacy in action: A survey of successful

programs. Syracuse, NY: New Readers Press.

Segel, E. (1986). Pushing preschool literacy: Equal opportunity or cultural

imperialism? Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 11, 59–62.

Segel, E., & Friedberg, J. B. (1991). The search for irresistible first books.

CBC Features, 44, (unpaged).

Segel, E., & Friedberg, J. B. (1991). Widening the circle: The Beginning

with Books model. The Horn Book Magazine, 67, 186–189.


From “Is Today Liberry Day?” by Elizabeth Segel and Joan Brest Friedberg in Language Arts,

Vol. 68, Dec. 1991, pp. 654–657.

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