Welcome! This collaborative Wiki space was created to help interested professionals explore the critical area of family literacy. This space provides an overview and definition, program examples, information on launching programs in one's community, research supporting services, funding sources, and an annotated list of useful resources. Feel free to peruse the page in its entirety or use the table of contents to jump to areas of particular interest.

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Photos from Flickr.com, under Creative Commons License.

Table of Contents

Family Literacy Defined

Family Literacy Programs & Services, An Overview

Early Literacy and Family Literacy

Program Examples

Starting a Family Literacy Program at Your Library

Supporting Research

Funding

Additional Resources

Family Literacy Defined

In order to define family literacy, we must first examine our definitions of literacy and family separately. The definition of literacy has evolved from the ability to read and write to a much more complex and dynamic concept that takes into consideration the ability to function successfully within a society and culture and continues to change in order to reflect a more technological and global world. Our definition of family has also expanded greatly, from only recognizing two parents living together with their children as a family, to now encompassing a wide variety of arrangements: two-parent, one-parent, blended, extended, and other non-traditional structures. With the concepts of literacy and family growing to accurately reflect our world, the definition of family literacy must also broaden in order to incorporate these changes. According to the Handbook of Family Literacy, family literacy refers to, "...literacy beliefs and practices among family members and the intergenerational transfer of literacy to children," (Wasik 3).

Family literacy takes place during daily routines in life as parents, children, and family members use literacy at home and in their community. Because children develop reading and writing skills as they grow, parents and other caregivers are their first and primary teachers. It is important to remember that literacy development is not finite, but rather grows over a lifetime.

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Family Literacy Programs & Services, An Overview

Although the concept of families as the primary educator of children has been discussed since the 1960s, family literacy programs and services are a fairly new occurrence within the fields of early childhood and adult education. These programs and services provide a variety of interventions for both child and adult literacy. According to the Family Literacy Handbook, "Family literacy programs developed from an awareness that many children and adults were not well prepared for success in school or in the workplace," (Wasik 8). This disparity of readiness is illustrated by the following set of statistics compiled by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy:
  • In the U.S., 30 million people over age 16 - 14 % of the country's adult population - don't read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or fill out a job application. (NAAL, National Assessment of Adult Literacy)
  • Low family income and a mother's lack of education are the two biggest risk factors that hamper a child's early learning and development. Children's reading scores improve when their parents are involved in helping them learn to read. (National Center for Family Literacy - NCFL)
  • 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. (NAAL)
  • Low literacy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. (www.literacytexas.org )
  • The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations. (NAAL)
  • Adults with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $51,206 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915; those without a high school diploma average $18,734. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005)
  • Medication errors - many as the result of misread or misunderstood prescription labels - are the most common medical mistakes causing up to 7,000 deaths each year. (2005 White House Conference on Aging)

Family literacy programs attempt to mitigate and overcome the literacy gap in America by focusing on services and education for the family and child in order to improve overall well-being. According to, "Family Literacy Programs - Opportunities and Possibilities", "The primary population served by family literacy programs is the working poor, Hispanics, and others who speak languages other than English, in particular single mothers who head a household," (Chance 9). These populations face added barriers that can be cyclical, affecting multiple generations. Family literacy programs aim to break the cycle.

Family literacy programs and services focus on four interdependent components as defined in the Head Start Act of 2007:
  • Interactive literacy activities between parents and their children.
  • Training for parents regarding how to be the primary teacher for their children and full partners in the education of their children.
  • Parent literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency and financial literacy.
  • An age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences.

Family literacy programs can take on a variety of looks, narrowing in on any of the above components, occurring both formally and informally, directly and indirectly, as well as, in a variety of settings. Although, comprehensive family literacy programs include services that focus on all four components: parent-child interactions, parenting education and support, adult education, and early childhood education.

Early Literacy and Family Literacy

One of the most important places for parents to get involved in their child’s literacy development is during the formative years before they even become readers. Parents and other caregivers provide the primary interactions for young children and it is through these loving and supportive relationships that early literacy skills can be fostered. Librarians can provide support and knowledge for parents on how best to help their child gain early literacy skills.

Early literacy was brought to the foreground for libraries in 2000 when the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) partnered with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to try to address the growing concern over inadequate reading skills in many American students (Meyers and Henderson). The NICHD provided a report by the National Reading Panel that spurred the PLA and the ALSC into action. This report strongly indicated the importance of early childhood experiences in developing the necessary skills to support later literacy (National Reading Panel). These two organizations, with the help of Dr. Grover C. Whitehurst and Dr. Christopher Lonigan, two prominent researchers in the field of early literacy, developed a program for public libraries to help them teach parents how to foster early literacy skills in their child (Ash and Meyers 4). This program, Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library (ECRR), was based around the six early literacy skills proposed by Whitehurst and Lonigan.

Six Early Literacy Skills

  • Narrative Skills- Basic understanding of story structure and how to tell a story.
  • Print Motivation- Excitement about text and a desire to learn to read.
  • Vocabulary- Knowledge of the meaning behind words and connecting that meaning with real-world objects or concepts.
  • Phonological Awareness- Understanding that words are made up of smaller individual sounds.
  • Letter Knowledge- Recognizing and naming letters and understanding that different letters correspond to different sounds.
  • Print Awareness-Familiarity with the common rules of interaction with printed material, i.e. pages are turned right to left, text is read from left to right, the symbols (words) on a page have meaning, etc. (Dundorf 6)

Knowledge of these six early literacy skills is important for parents wanting to support their child’s literacy development. The program developed by PLA and ALSC in response to this deepening understanding of the importance of early literacy skills was designed to provide librarians with the knowledge that they need to be able to teach parents how to interact with their child to engender these skills. There are many successful examples of librarians taking the knowledge and kits provided by ECRR and integrating them into their community.

Rhonda Fulton of the Cleveland Public Library System took the central tenets of ECRR and created an early literacy bookmobile around the idea that caregivers are the most important influence on a child’s early literacy development. This bookmobile program, On the Road to Reading (OTRR), brought awareness of the six early literacy skills and materials and activities to support them straight to community parents instead of making parents come to them. By partnering with local childcare centers, medical centers, and Women, Infant, and Children offices throughout the area, OTRR was able to reach community members that may not otherwise have heard about early literacy efforts.

Promoting family literacy and getting caregivers involved in their child’s literacy is a great way for librarians to extend literacy promotion beyond the boundaries of the library. Spreading knowledge of early literacy skills through programs like ECRR helps caregivers get more involved in their child’s literacy efforts at a crucial stage of their development.

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Program Examples


National & International Family Literacy Programs

Even Start Family Literacy Program
The Even Start Family Literacy Program is a government funded comprehensive family literacy program focusing on all four family literacy components: parent-child interactions, parenting education and support, adult education, and early childhood education.

Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library

Every Child Ready to Read is a parent education initiative developed by the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children. It is designed to help librarians educate parents and other caregivers on how to support early literacy skill development in their children.

Motheread, Inc.
Motheread, Inc. is a non-profit organization founded in 1987 that focuses on teaching literacy skills within the contexts of child development and family empowerment. The program offers classes for both adults and children. In classes aimed for adults, participants work with the medium of children's books by becoming readers, writers, and tellers in a supportive environment where the focus is the "why" of reading. In classes aimed for children, the participants have a structured learning experience aimed to support literacy skills development and critical thinking.

Parents as Teachers
Parents as Teachers is a home visit based program in which professionals provide information about child development and parenting skills in the home. This is supported by parent groups, screenings, and referrals to community resources.

ProLiteracy
ProLiteracy supports a variety of programs and initiatives at local, state, national, and international levels aimed to improve the lives of families through adult literacy and basic education.

Reading Is Fundamental
RIF's mission is, "To motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life," (About RIF). Over 400,000 volunteers nationwide work to distribute books and literacy resources, as well as to, promote the importance of reading in a variety of settings focusing on underserved children ages birth through eight.

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Family Literacy Programs & Services at the Library

Storytime Programs and family literacy nights can provide interactive learning opportunities for caregivers and children, provide age-appropriate literacy activities for children, and model literacy activities for adults. During storytimes librarians can invite caregivers to interact with their children and directly address adults with tips on supporting early literacy development. These tips for families and caregivers can also be available through a library's Web site. The Hennepin County Library provides resources and tips for families on supporting early literacy development, including video clips modeling read-alouds.

Family Literacy Storytimes and Programs should reflect patrons' and communities' cultural and language backgrounds. The American Library Association's five Ethnic Affiliates developed sustainable and replicable library-based family literacy programs as part of Family Literacy Focus, an initiative to encourage families in ethnically diverse communities to read and learn together. The programs can serve as models for similar programs and be customized to fit a library's needs.
American Library Association (ALA) Family Literacy Focus Overview
  • Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture is a literacy program that reaches out to Asian Pacific American (APA) and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) children and their families through oral and written stories, as well as, art.
  • Reading is Grand! Celebrating Grand-Families @Your Library is a library program focused on celebrating the importance of grandparents and intergenerational connections through oral and written language created by the Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA).
  • Dai Dai Xiang Chuan: Bridging Generations, a Bag at a Time was created by the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA) and uses bilingual literacy activities emphasizing verbal/written language skills and digital literacy. (A Web site on the project with a blog for participating parents is to come).
  • Noche de Cuentos is a program promoting intergenerational storytelling created by The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, REFORMA, that was launched in March 2010 in conjunction with World Storytelling Day.

Literacy Kits and Parenting Resources
Provide early literacy activity kits with books, fingerplays, and age appropriate activities available for patrons to check-out. These kits can also include tips and suggestions for caregivers about relevant topics like toilet training and bedtime routines. The King County Library System (KCLS) provides themed literacy kits with age appropriate texts and literacy connections for patrons to check out. The KCLS also provides workshops on how to make reading a significant part of one's routine, including tips on read-alouds and accessing materials. These Early Literacy Activity Cards include connections to texts, activities, and direct parenting tips.

Parent Education
Libraries can offer parent education programs and classes that address a variety of parenting needs. Project LIFT (Literacy Involves Families Together) is a ten session family literacy outreach program for teen parents in Tucson and Pima Counties in Arizona. The program is offered through the Pima County Library and helps parents “develop their creative, imaginative, illustrative, and writing skills through the creation of children’s books.” Each session of the program focuses on a different area:
  • Session 1: Benefits of Reading to Baby
  • Session 2: Understanding the Magic of Bonding
  • Session 3: Types of Books that Babies and Children Like
  • Session 4: Planning for the Construction of a Cloth Book
  • Sessions 5-9: Book Making
  • Session 10: Graduation/Celebration

Parents can create books out of cloth, paper, or other materials; learn songs and rhymes to share with their children; and select books for their children to keep. These activities give parents the tools they need to help their children develop reading readiness skills. When parents make books for their children, they incorporate one lesson that they would like to teach their child such as spelling their name or learning the alphabet or numbers. Once parents graduate from the program, they are given a completion certificate and a library canvas bag to use when they visit the library.

Project LIFT was originally funded by a grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy but now receives funding from various sources including:
  • Pima County Public Library budget
  • Support from Friends of Pima County Public Library
  • Grants

Adult Education
Libraries can offer programs, services, and resources for adults to improve their education including GED preparation, English language acquisition, and computer skills programs. The Pima County Library offers a variety of adult education opportunities, as well as, connects users to other relevant resources in the community. The Pierce County Library System connects users to a variety of community resources for adult education that are either free or low-cost.

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Starting a Family Literacy Program at Your Library

The family literacy programs and services highlighted here are only the tip of the iceberg; there are a plethora of models that exist that libraries and other institutions can look to for direction and ideas. Like with any library programming, it is important to take into consideration a community's unique needs. Conducting a community needs assessment in relation to family literacy will help to focus service efforts. Obtaining information through questionnaires, interviews, and other methods, as well as, identifying current services offered in a area and a community's demographics can help libraries better understand and serve their patrons.

When planning family literacy programs it is crucial to remember that there is no "one size fits all" model. However, the Family Literacy Resource Notebook, a comprehensive source on family literacy created by professionals at Kent State University and the Ohio Literacy Center, does suggest that individuals and institutions reflect on some of the beliefs central to family literacy programs when planning, as well as, to reflect upon the assumptions and feelings you will be bringing as an individual. Whether your institution is interested in launching a comprehensive family literacy program or incorporating components into existing library services, below are some principal values regarding families and learning to consider:
  • The family unit is the appropriate focus if we plan to influence the attitudes, values, and expectations communicated in the home.
  • Families are culturally and individually diverse; this diversity is healthy and enriches the community
  • Literacy has a strong intergenerational effect; it exists on a continuum.
  • All families have strengths.
  • Change takes time; it is a gradual process. It is more meaningful and lasting if the community as a whole participates in the change (Sapin, Padak, and Baycich).

The Family Literacy Resource Notebook found two common themes amongst resources for planning family literacy services that they examined, planning and partnerships.

Planning
The needs of your community and the planned scope and comprehensiveness of your institution's family literacy services will direct your planning process. Please refer to our Additional Resources section for a variety of print and web resources that may aid your planning process based on your institution's goals.

Partnerships
Family literacy is an educational movement with many stakeholders. When thinking about potential partners determine what your institution can provide and where support or collaboration could better the program. Keep in mind that effective partnerships are mutually beneficial and begin by establishing relationships and creating connections. Here is a preliminary list of potential family literacy partnerships for libraries:
  • Adult Education Programs
  • Civic Groups
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Correctional Services
  • Early Childhood Centers
  • Health and Nutritional Services
  • Hospitals
  • Job Training Services
  • Publishers
  • Religious Organizations
  • Schools
  • Senior Citizens Groups or Housing
  • Social Service Agencies

Outreach

Getting parents into the library to learn about family literacy is not always easy, particularly with those families that often need help most, such as teen mothers and low-income families. It can also be difficult to get non-English speaking families involved in family literacy programs. These are all populations that are typically underserved by the library, but which can greatly benefit from the community and support that library programs can provide. Providing family literacy programs specifically geared towards a particular underserved population can be helpful in getting these families into the library and engaging with literacy issues. The Hennepin County Library hosts Día each year, a celebration of Latino heritage, literacy, and family. By creating a celebration of both Latino culture and literacy centered around children, the Hennepin County Library is able to offer family literacy support to many immigrant families, some of whom may never have been in the library before. Sometimes the only way to reach a population of families is to take the programming to them with library outreach programs located in schools, medical centers, or welfare organizations. The On the Road to Reading bookmobile program mentioned above in the Early Literacy and Family Literacy section is a good example of how a library can reach more diverse populations by taking literacy programming to them, rather than trying to get certain parents to come to the library.

The Early Years Community Program in Vancouver is another excellent example of how outreach geared toward specific populations of underserved families can promote and expand family literacy. This program focuses on reaching out to parents to engage them in literacy issues and partners with various community organizations to reach as many populations as possible. Some of their efforts to increase family literacy participation within the library include offering a Chinese language Mother Goose family literacy program, and Nanay Gansa, which is a Tagalong Mother Goose program. Not only do these programs draw in families who might not come to the library as much, they also foster a sense of community and shared experience between the members of each group so that parents can support each other in their literacy efforts with their children. Many of the other programs offered by the Early Years Community Program send librarians directly to the groups that they are trying to reach and implementing literacy programming in a women’s shelter, local food banks, and a residential harm-reduction program for women who are recovering from addiction and who also have children. All of these programs put families and their needs first when creating family literacy programs. Because these librarians are willing to listen to feedback from parents and make the extra effort to visit families that cannot or will not come to the library, they are able to support family literacy in a larger and more diverse group of families.

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Supporting Research

Literacy and reading skills are deeply connected with school success. Having reading difficulties can contribute to school failure, which in turn has wide reaching affects including, "risk of absenteeism, dropping out, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy - all of which perpetuate the cycles of poverty and dependency," (Reach Out and Read). Family literacy programs aim to serve the entire family in order to help children and adults find success, improve their lives, and end the cyclical nature of low literacy. Many family literacy service models have research supporting the specific interventions used and more generally, there is a large body of research illustrating the importance of family interactions, parents as the primary educators of children, and early literacy experiences.

Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization that integrates early literacy development with doctor visits. Trained pediatricians use books in exam rooms to help assess children's language and literacy development and teach families about the importance of reading with their children. Reach Out and Read has compiled evidence-based research that supports their program, in particular the importance of family literacy experiences. Some astonishing and relevant findings are that only 48% of children under five are read to daily. This percentage is even lower for low-income families at 36%. There are many factors that contribute to this including, lack of time, lack of quality books or access to libraries, not understanding the value of reading aloud, and lack of reading skills. Despite this, the importance of reading to young children has been continually shown to have positive impacts on families. Reach Out and Read compiled a variety of statistics from multiple sources on the importance of family literacy including:
  • Children who live in print-rich environments and who are read to during the first years of life are much more likely to learn to read on schedule.
  • Reading aloud to young children is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory.
  • Early language skills, the foundation for reading ability and school readiness, are based primarily on language exposure - resulting from parents and other adults talking to young children.
  • Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child's vocabulary at age 3. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4.
  • Books contain many words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children's books actually contain 50% more rare words than primetime television or even college students conversations.
  • The nurturing and one-on-one attention from parents during reading aloud encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.
  • Reading aloud is a proven technique to help children cope during times of stress or tragedy.
(Reach Out and Read - The Importance of Early Literacy)

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Funding

Do you have a family literacy program in place you want to expand or are interested in starting services in your community that support family literacy? Below is a list of resources that provide funding and grants for family literacy and early literacy programs. This list is not exhaustive, but provides a number of potential funding sources.

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
Non-profit or public organizations that operate an instructional literacy program that has been in existence for at least two years and includes one or more of the following components: literacy for adults, parent education, pre-literacy or literacy instruction for children pre-k to grade 3, or intergenerational literacy activities are eligible to apply. The foundation awards approximately $650,000 in grants yearly.

Dollar General Literacy Foundation
Dollar General provides grants for Family Literacy programs which include the four components defined by the federal government: parent-child interactions, parenting education and support, adult education, and early childhood education. The Dollar General Literacy Foundation also offers grants for both adult and youth literacy separately, as well as, summer reading grants.

Even Start Family Literacy Program
Even Start Family Literacy program offers grants to local family literacy projects. The projects should focus on “early childhood education, adult literacy…, parenting education, and interactive parent and child literacy activities for low-income families with parents who are eligible for services under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and their children from birth through age 7.” Even Start also sets aside money for family literacy grants for migratory worker families, outlying areas, Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and women’s prisons.

The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL)
The NCFL currently offers three annual Libraries and Families Awards supported by Better World Books. The award provides three library literacy programs with $10,000 each for an existing or new family literacy program, as well as, scholarships to attend the National Conference on Family Literacy.

Target Early Childhood Reading Grants
Target offers $2,000 Early Childhood Reading grants for programs at schools, libraries, and other nonprofit organizations that support and encourage children to read with their families.

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Additional Resources

Web Resources
A Practical Guide to Family Literacy: A Project of the Family Literacy Action Group of Alberta
Although this guide is a bit dated (1995), it still provides relevant and comprehensive information regarding planning family literacy services from conducting a community needs assessment to developing an action plan and recruiting participants.
The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
This site provides general information about family literacy, program examples, supporting research, and funding opportunities.
Center for Early Literacy Learning
This site provides resources for practitioners, families, and caregivers supporting evidence-based early literacy practices.
Colorin Colorado
This bilingual site offers resources for families and educators of English language learners.
Family Literacy Resource Notebook - Kent State University
This in-depth resource created by professionals at Kent State University and the Ohio Literacy Resource Center provides a wide breadth of information on family literacy.
National Center for Family Literacy
The NCFL site provides program profiles, professional development opportunities, relevant research, and funding for family literacy programs.

Print Resources
Bringing_Literacy_Home.jpg
Fisher, Douglas and Kailonnie Dunsmore, Eds. Bringing Literacy Home. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 2010.
Family_Reading_Night.jpg
Hutchins, Darcy, Marsha Greenfeld, and Joyce Epstein. Family Reading Night. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, 2007.
Handbook_of_Family_Literacy.jpg
Wasik, Barbara H., Ed. Handbook of Family Literacy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2004.
Family_Literacy_Storytimes.jpg
Totten, Kathryn. Family Literacy Storytimes: Readymade Storytimes Suitable for the Whole Family. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2009.
Literacy_in_the_Welcoming_Classroom.jpg
Allen, JoBeth. Literacy in the Welcoming Classroom: Creating Family-School Partnerships That Support Student Learning. New York: Teachers College Press, 2010.


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