Family Literacy..... Why read?

If I told you, that in 15 minutes a day you could make your child 2x less likely to suffer unemployment, 4x more likely to attain an administrative or managerial position, 70% less likely to go to prison, 50% more likely to earn above average income, substantially less likely to become involved in drugs, juvenile crime, unplanned pregnancy, have a more satisfying home life and be better adjusted emotionally, would you be interested?

What is Family Literacy?

A person is considered literate if they 1) are able to read and write 2) have or show knowledge of literature, 3) are well read, 4) are characterized by skill, lucidity, polish or have 5) a well rounded education. Family Literacy can be described as " a venue for the transmission of knowledge, skills, and values from older to younger generations, including, but by no means limited to, those relating to (reading) literacy” (Handel, 1999) Family Literacy can then be explained as the home and family atmosphere that encourages a cooperative and positive stage for learning how to read and acquire information.

Physiological Benefits of Reading

  • Promotes Neuroplasticity. "Learning to read changes the brain of typically developing children as well as adults. ... reading ability boosts organization of the visual cortex; allows practically the entire left-hemisphere spoken-language network to be activated when individuals read written sentences; and refines spoken language processing by enhancing the phonological region of the brain." (Burns 2011)
  • Positive changes in neural circuitry occur when a reader becomes fluent, neuron growth can effect memory consolidation and retrieval, linguistic centers, processing speed, adaptation and skill acquisition. (Wallace 1990)

What this means to us as Teachers

When we positively shape the skills and attitudes of our young readers we are laying concrete physical paths in the brain that aid in acquiring, processing and synthesizing information and that, with maintenance, can increase a child's potential.

Cognitive Benefits of Reading

  • Expands schemata42637-Smart-Brain-Wearing-Shades-And-Reading-Poster-Art-Print.jpg....“Schemata (mental constructs) expand as the brain assimilates and accommodates existing cognitive structures to incorporate new concepts and understandings.” (Brand and Donato 2001) In other words, reading to children gives them a foundation for understanding different situations and lays the path to understand a greater variety of experiences.
  • Develops concepts “Children learn to organize and categorize new concepts ( ie: opposites, emotions, informal facts about the world) through repeated exposures to reading, they then find it easier to expand on, and react positively to these concepts ” (Brand and Donato 2001)
  • Expands vocabulary
  • Stimulates imagination
  • Facilitates expressive language skills
  • Promotes phonemic awareness. " of the main distinguishers of early vs late readers is the early readers acquisition of phonemic awareness...closely associated with success in later fluency levels" (Brand and Donato 2001)
  • Promotes meta-cognition. "Through reading with and adult, the child extends factual information and learns to organize it into meaningful structures...beyond the literal and provides support to higher level thinking skills" and reflective abilities. (Brand and Donato 2001)

What this means to us as Teachers

Helping our students gain a solid foundation in reading and literacy will build skills far more extensive than those needed for success in the Language Arts classroom. Each core subject will be positively effected by greater literacy skills. Students will have mental constructs laid to help them assimilate new information and start scaffolding knowledge.

Social Benefits of ReadingCozy-Couple-Reading-Book.jpg

  • Establishes links with life events, "promoting confidence in new situations and a stronger reasoning ability in social situations" (Brand and Donato 2001)
  • Provides catharsis. "Children often lack experience and confidence dealing with strong emotion. Their frame of reference is egocentric and concrete. Through reading ...they learn how to solve problems, appropriately channel emotions and confront and resolve fears."(Brand and Donato 2001)
  • Promotes interpersonal intelligence-empathy-values-ethics (Fogarty 1997, Russel 1976)
  • Theorists from diverse disciplines purport narrative fiction serves to foster empathic development and growth. (Johnson 2012)
  • More than three out of four of those on welfare, 85% of unwed mothers and 68% of those arrested are illiterate. (Washington Literacy Council)
  • Workers who are in the 5th literacy quintile (fluent at a university level) earn 7X the income of those in the 1st literacy quintile (at or below grade three level) This is the difference between earning (Statistics Canada)
  • Good readers generally have more financially rewarding jobs. More than 60% of employed Proficient readers have jobs in management, or inthe business, financial, professional, and related sectors.
    • Only 18% of Basic readers are employed in those fields.
    • Proficient readers are 2.5 times as likely as Basic readers to be earning $850 or more a week. (national endowment for the arts)

What this means to us as Teachers

Improving our students social intelligence will have an impact on their confidence, their communication abilities and ultimately their behavior with other students. Classroom atmosphere and management become easier with students who are more aware and empathetic and there are increased opportunities for students to interact in a positive way on an intellectual level in class. Ultimately this will build healthier citizens with higher prospects for success and happiness in their personal lives apart from school.

Behavioral Benefits of Reading

  • Promotes positive parent child relationships."Reading together in early childhood fosters a bond of trust and mutually respectful communication and prepares the child for similar relationships" (Brand and Donato). "..." most individuals who suffer from psychiatric disorders show a degree of impairment in their capacity for affectional bonding. Such impairment frequently reflects disturbance of bonding during childhood."(Canetti 2006)
  • Data indicates that below grade-level reading abilities are significantly related to the development of aggressive antisocial behavior. (Meitchenbaum 2011)
  • Children with low reading achievement by Grade 3 have a statistically greater likelihood drug abuse, early pregnancy, delinquency and unemployment. (Meitchenbaum 2011)
  • Low literacy is strongly related to crime. 70% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of reading proficiency (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).
  • Prisoners who receive successful literacy interventions have a 16% chance of returning to prison as compared to 70% for those who do not.(U.S.Department of Education)
  • The former governor of Indiana has stated that determining the number of new prisons to build is based, in part, on the number of second graders not reading at second-grade level. Low literacy is the socio-economic factor prison inmates have most in common. (Clark 2008)
  • Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 - 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.(U.S.Department of Education)

What this means to us as Teachers

We have an opportunity to positively impact the lives of our students in ways that echo far into the future. The bonds of trust and mutually respectful communication that we help teach them to build now can lay foundations for preteen, adolescent and adult relationships. The immediate effect will be happier, healthier and more grounded students and a more positive classroom atmosphere.

What We Can Do

Elementary School teachers are lucky to be involved with their students during the time of highest parental interest and engagement. Capturing the interest and motivating the parent to partner in developing family literacy is not easy, but it is crucial, and we must take advantage of this period of high involvement.

Connect with the Parents

Establish a routine of communication, using as many approaches as necessary to ensure a connection

Be aware of the students home circumstances, do the parents need assistance with literacy themselves? Are there ESL learners in the family? Is there an extended or blended family in the home? By being alert for opportunities we can draw the families into the child's learning environment and expand that environment.
Some schools actively encourage parent/teacher relationships by having a parent newsletter or projects like a 'call with questions' time when the parents can contact the teacher by phone for scheduled 5-10 minute conversations. Solicit information about family activities and likes to better suggest activities or books that will be engaging for both parent and child.

Become Involved with your Students and their Parents
Something as simple as having a daily agenda in which the students write (or copy) announcements, homework assignments and accomplishments will draw the parents into the classroom. From there you can assign student reading, and reading to and with family members as an assignment. An easy to read and follow sheet of guidelines to encourage appropriate pair reading behavior is available at the "Helping your child learn to read" Ontario Department of Education website (here) with these tips.
Tip 1 – Talk to your child
Tip 2 – Make reading fun
Tip 3 – Read every day
Tip 4 – Set an example
Tip 5 – Talk about books
Tip 6 – Listen to your child read
Tip 7 – Show that you value your child's efforts

There are many other excellent guides available at Alberta Education and the multitude of sites found on the web. Please be sure to ask peers to suggest sites they found effective.

Help the parent choose age appropriate and relevant books. Being aware of trends in pop culture and movies can help flag the interest of a reluctant reader. Stephanie Smith has provided guidelines and suggestions in her Wiki "Choosing Literature".

Provide and encourage parents to provide Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading
opportunities for your students and read with them. Modeling reading behavior is one of the strongest forms of encouragement an adult can provide an emerging reader.

Create a reading friendly environment. Resources like teachertube have resources and ideas by the hundreds, and many are displayed in tested and familiar environments . Once you have established a students comfort and familiarity with reading, they will be able to carry that attitude into the home.

ESL Students and Parents
Some of our students will have parents that do not speak or read English. If there are language barriers in the home that may be a concern, picture books can provide the majority of benefits and provide pre-reading skills for both parent and child. The 'Owley' books are an excellent example.

As teachers and parents in todays busy world it is often difficult to find a spare moment, and the idea of scheduling another item in an already packed day may be daunting, but there are resources available that not only aid in promoting literacy in young children, but may provide a busy parent with a fun break as well! Encourage the parents to explore options outside of school and have resources available for those who may need help finding activities.

Check Your Local Library
Lethbridge Public Library for Children has free reading, storytelling and interactive adventure programs for toddlers and young children. From 'Time for 2's' (storytelling, creative play and more) to 'Storytime Adventures' the library offers literacy and early literacy activities in a safe and fun atmosphere.

Give Parents Things to Do at Home
Start a daily diary, and start slowly, taking dictation for the child in the beginning, even a single sentence is a success.They can make a calendar for Grandma's birthday chronicling the events of their week and taking pride in creating as well as building reading, writing expressive and organizational skills. There are some available to purchase(such as the Early Years Diary), but a simple notebook will work just as well.

Scholastic offers some excellent articles about parent involvement, below is an excerpt, the full article can be found by clicking here.
    • Make time to rhyme. Read plenty of Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose (see our booklist for more ideas). Rhymes and repetitive refrains draw children's attention to the consonant sounds at the beginnings and ends of words, making it easier for them to learn letter sounds and break down words phonetically later on in kindergarten and the early grades. "
    • Preschoolers are ready for longer picture books with detailed plots and illustrations. But your child will still want to hear books from babyhood, along with stories on real-life themes like starting school or welcoming a new sibling. Follow along with your finger as you read, to show how text moves from left to right. Stop and point out words and letters. Spark prediction skills and critical thinking by asking questions like, "What do you think will happen?" or "Why do you think he did that?" And "as soon as your preschooler can write his name, get him a library card," advises Barbara Genco, President of the Association for Library Service for Children. "This helps children identify themselves as readers — even if they can't yet read on their own."

Worksheets and At Home Activities for Parents and Students

Concept books where the child can become an author while learning to read the very book they are creating can be found at hubbardscupboard.
Bookworm reading chart for young children.
Beginning Reading provides a clear outline of the needs of the emerging reader and some widely accepted techniques to improve comprehension and encourage enjoyment.
Kaboose Reading Games is a fun and educational interactive site for beginning readers.


Brand, Susan and Donato, Jeanne. Storytelling in Emergent Literacy. Thomson Learning. New York 2001

Burns M. Our Plastic Brains. T H E Journal [serial online]. May 2011;38(5):12-13. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 29, 2012.

Clark, Perry R. Barred Progress: Indiana Prison Reform. Indiana University, May 2008. Web. 26 Jan. 2012.

Ellis, Karen: "Educational CyberPlayGround" Internet. Database available online. 29 2012

Johnson D. Transportation into a story increases empathy, pro-social behavior, and perceptual bias toward fearful expressions. Personality & Individual Differences [serial online]. January 15, 2012;52(2):150-155. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 29, 2012.

U.S.Department of Education, National Illiteracy Action Project,

Statistics Canada.The joint distribution of literacy and income

Laura Canetti , Eytan Bachar , Esti Galili-Weisstub , Atara Kaplan De-Nour , Arieh Y. Shalev Parental bonding and mental health in adolescence. 2006

Meichenbaum Donald, Ph.D. Editor in Chief Research Director of the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention & Treatment

Price, Anne & Jerkovic, Nada Family Literacy, Calgary Learning Center

Wallace, Randall. Robeck, Mildred The Psychology of Reading: An Interdiciplanary approach