Quick Tip Tuesday: Family Literacy Experiences

August 18th, 2009

This week’s Quick Tip, an essay by Lesley Mandel Morrow, explores how schools and homes can support each other in creating meaningful literacy experiences for students. Literacy learning doesn’t just take place in schools and teachers need to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of literacy experiences students have outside of school. This essay appears in Family Literacy Experiences: Creating Reading and Writing Opportunities That Support Classroom Learning by Jennifer Rowsell.

Home and School Working Together
by Lesley M. Morrow

I have the wonderful opportunity to watch literacy development with my two grandchildren, three- year-old James and six-month-old Natalie. My daughter, her husband, and grandparents have read to James and Natalie daily from the time they were born. We look at books, talk about the pictures, and read stories. Books are all around my daughter’s home. There are accessible bookshelves in their rooms. There are books in the kitchen, the bathroom, and play areas. James sees his parents reading frequently—professional literature as well as novels, magazines, and newspapers—and at times they join them with their own books. In addition to books there are magnetic letters and numbers, paper and pencils, markers and crayons. Playing with these and books bring as much joy as playing with dolls and trucks.

Family literacy encompasses the ways family members use literacy at home and in their community. Family literacy occurs naturally during the routines of daily living and helps adults and children “get things done.” Examples include using writing or drawing to share ideas, composing notes or letters to communicate messages, keeping records, making lists, following written directions, or sharing stories and ideas through conversation, reading, and writing.

Although literacy activity is present in one form or another in most families, the particular kinds of events that some families share with children may have a great deal of influence on school success. Conversely, the kinds of literacy practised in classrooms may not be meaningful for some children outside school. Family literacy must be approached to avoid cultural bias, and activities must be supportive rather than intrusive.

Schools need to view families as partners in the development of literacy. Because no two communities are the same, family literacy programs need to be tailored to the needs of the individuals they serve:

• Hold meetings at varied times of the day and days of the week, in accessible locations that are friendly and nonthreatening. Provide transportation if no public transportation is available or if parents do not have a way of getting to meetings.
• Provide child care and refreshments at meetings.
• Work with parents alone, and with family members and children together. There should be sharing times when family members and children work together.
• Provide support groups for families to talk about helping their children and to find out what they want to know.
• Provide families with ideas and materials to use at home, including easy literacy activities that family members consider useful, such as talking and reading about childrearing concerns, about community life problems, etc.
• Include the opportunity for parental participation in school activities during school hours.

Likewise, teachers should help promote parental involvement in children’s education: informing families on a regular basis what is happening in school and how they can help their children; involving families in school activities during the day and providing activities for families to do at home. Families need to feel that they are welcome in the classroom:

• At the beginning of the school year, send home the literacy development goals to be achieved for the grade level you teach, in a format that can be understood by all.
• With each new unit of instruction or literacy concept, send home a letter to let families know what you are studying and what they can do to help.
• Invite families to school for parent conferences and school programs.
• Invite families to help with literacy activities in the classroom, such as reading to children, helping with bookbinding, taking written dictation of stories, and supervising independent activities while teachers work with small groups and individual children.
• Send home activities for families and children to do together.
• Require some feedback from the parents or child about working together.
• Suggest home activities such as writing in journals together, reading together, visiting the library, recording print in the environment, writing notes to each other, cooking together and following recipes, following directions to put together toys or household items, and watching and talking about specific programs on television.
• Participate in homework assignments together.
• Invite families to school to share special skills they may have, to talk about their cultural heritage, hobbies, jobs, etc.
• Send home notes when a child is doing well. Do not send notes only for problems.
• Provide lists of literature for families to share with their children.
• Hold meetings for family members and children about progress and projects.

We need the help of families to support the work done in school to promote literacy. All parents can help in some way, and schools need to be persistent in involving them in the literacy curriculum and finding how they can help in a way that is comfortable for them.

Entry Filed under: Literacy,Quick Tip Tuesday

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