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What Is Family Literacy?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term family literacy refers to a number of loosely related, family-centered approaches to encouraging literacy among family members. Learning activities that benefit readers at every level of education or development are shared, and the ongoing dialogues that develop help shape and motivate family learning. In family literacy programs, children experience their parents’ active engagement and are inspired by it. Parents are taught the multiple ways in which literacy learning takes place and are encouraged to work with their family members to design a program that meets the unique needs and interests of all involved.

Family literacy deepens language, reading, and understanding skills by offering problem-solving approaches such as considering context when faced with an unfamiliar word or recalling words with similar prefixes, suffixes, or roots. While family literacy projects involve parents’ active participation with their children’s literacy learning development, it is important to note that this participation is reciprocal. Children are as involved in their parents’ learning processes as well.

Reciprocal learning is at the heart of most of these programs. Children learn a lesson that will serve them well throughout life; there are as many ways of learning as there are learners. Similarly, parents learn from their children that there is no right way to learn. Applying a range of skills or discarding those that don’t work in a particular situation are all acceptable means to an end.

These approaches have been used successfully in families with non-native English speakers, as well as those in which a real need for a solid foundation in basic reading skills exist. The bond that develops between familial learners of all ages, from the youngest readers to grandparents, spills into other areas of their lives. The goal of reading fluency becomes truly important only when it is relevant to the learners’ individual lives; sharing their motivations, their frustrations, and their excitement throughout the process of learning creates not only an intellectual connection but an emotional one.

Opportunities to enhance family literacy programs include oral storytelling, story writing, and shared reading. Other approaches include imaginative play groups in which children and adults take turns directing the play using oral prompts. Yet another technique involves independent reading periods, following which readers of all ages share their thoughts about the material they have just read.

Some families who have participated in literacy programs are using the skills and techniques they have mastered to document past learning in a family journal or newspaper. In turn, these documents help motivate and shape future learning, which is then also documented. These written pieces may become profoundly important family artifacts, treasured through time as younger learners grow into adults and begin their own families.

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