Family Literacy

Why is Family Literacy Important?

The importance in my opinion is quite simple. Intergenerational illiteracy and poverty cannot be broken until the family as a whole begins to learn and realize the importance of education. Then, the family needs to use that knowledge to begin to become productive members of society. Too many programs focus on just the adult or just the child. The value of family literacy is the focus on the family as a whole.
-Kim Starr

In any case, of course family literacy is important, more than that, it is critical. I expect that you will receive many more methodical or analytic answers to that query, but my response is based on more than 15 years of observation and study, in which I have become one of the educators "who have become increasingly convinced of the promise of family literacy programs in promoting successful learning experiences for children and their families," as stated by Leslie Mandel Morrow in the book, Family Literacy: Connections in schools and communities (1995).

Why is a collection of resources pertaining to intergenerational learning a necessary thing? I wonder how we will continue to learn as researchers and practitioners without the literature as well as the practical experience? We need the latest information, stories and data that will help us to understand the effects of lapsits and reading aloud; table time conversations; incidental and intentional teaching, and experiences that create memories. We need to know how to make meaningful changes in program design as promoted by the latest research in early childhood and parenting education programs. Resources--A necessary thing? Critical.
-Meta Potts

I'd also suggest that family literacy is part of a very broad understanding of literacy itself and its functions. The EFF role maps touch on things that adults need to know in order to function in their multiple roles; as well, I think of family - or intergenerational or even community - literacy as a way of framing the ways in which younger and older people, in varying combinations, utilize literacies (in their broadest) sense.
- Janet Isserlis

Any parent who has watched their child struggle to learn how to read, and has sat with them every night to help them over the hurdle...should understand the need for family literacy education.

Any parent who has had to sit down and relearn simple math they haven't used in 20 years before they can even begin to help with their child's homework questions... should understand the need for family literacy.

Any parent who has had to get the medical forms to school, register their child for ballet class, organize a complicated after school pick-up and drop off schedule, sit in a parent teacher conference and not hear that their child is a perfect student ..

How could a parent do any of the above without literacy skills - they could not read, could not understand their rights and responsibilities, would not be empowered to navigate the educational system and make it work for their child. Why family literacy? Because the good work of early childhood literacy falls apart around Grade 3 if there is no parent literacy, that's when the homework gets tough, and the parenting gets harder. A parent who can read can raise a child who can read.
-Lisa Bernstein

Although not negating the importance of adult education, I want to stress that the bottom line of this holistic approach is to enable children to succeed in school. In fact, the way to "break the intergenerational cycle of low literacy" is to enable and empower marginally literate parents so that they can foster literacy abilities in their at-risk children, ages birth to 8 (as stipulated in the Even Start legislation). As someone on the list pointed out, however, the crucial time for parent support in school begins at about grade 3 when children are beginning to use reading to learn content ("reading to learn as opposed to learning to read").

Furthermore, research in early literacy development points to the importance of early (preschool) language development, especially using books as a vehicle for oral language development. Through interacting with parents who are talking about the pictures, stories, and even touch/feel of books, children are learning complex oral language structures that prepare them to learn to read in school. So, how do these marginally literate parents learn strategies for oral language and literacy development? Through family literacy programs! Hence, the "why" of family literacy!
-Eunice Askov


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