Everywhere You Look…

Open a newspaper, check out a magazine stand, turn on the TV, watch the news, catch a conversation in the lunch room and chances are you are hearing about the absolute devastation that is the result of the rains and flooding in Southern Alberta. If it hasn’t affected you personally, you know someone whose life has been changed forever in some shape or form or know someone who knows someone. I see the pictures, hear the stories and my heart goes out to all of them. My daughter came into the room one night as I sat watching the coverage with more than a tear in my eye and said “Mom, turn it off if it makes you so sad!”

As an adult, I can follow up and read more about the way those affected are coping, see all the wonderful volunteers helping complete strangers without hesitation, understand the reasons why the flood victims aren’t allowed in their homes and rationalize that the pets sometimes can go a few days without food or water. The ones I worry more about are the children. They see the pictures and wonder why everything is garbage and why all the toys are being thrown away, see the people being rescued by boats and are scared because not everybody knows how to swim and how will they be saved, hear the big people around them say “it could happen to any of us” and be terrified the next time it rains.  They may only hear snippets of conversations, see their parent cry over the losses of strangers or watch the TV and not have anyone there to talk them through it.  How do we explain these kinds of disasters without scaring them? They hear things and take them literally, see the pictures and imagine all these things happening to them.

I remember the tornado here in Edmonton back in 1985 and how so many of the little people I knew were scared every time the wind picked up or the sky turned a funny colour. I didn’t know how to talk to them or reassure them that everything would be all right.

I was looking for ways to help little ones I know deal with the emotions these recent events have brought to the surface. I was fortunate that I got some really good resources sent to me and I would like to share them with you. Here are a couple of links that might be helpful to parents/caregivers who are looking for ways to talk about this with their children. Perhaps you have some others that could be shared here or words of wisdom on how you have dealt a traumatic event like the flooding.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Little Listeners in an Uncertain World

There are so many unseen casualties from the flooding. Wishing all our friends, neighbours, and fellow Albertans the strength to get through the rebuild and hope for tomorrow. With time all the material things can be replaced, it is the emotional wounds that will take much longer to heal.

A New Font to Help with Dyslexia:

A new, free font has been created to help people with dyslexia read online content. The font, called OpenDyslexic, contains characters with “heavy-weighted bottoms” that prevent the letters from flipping and moving around for the dyslexic reader.

OpenDyslexic, created by Abelardo Gonzalez, has recently been built into a word processor, an ebook reader, and has been installed on school computers.  Similar fonts had been previously available, but their high cost made them relatively inaccessible.

Gonzalez has stated, “The response has been great. I’ve had people emailing saying this is the first time they could read text without it looking wiggly or it has helped with other symptoms of dyslexia.”

You can download the font and learn more at www.dyslexicfonts.com/

Community Volunteers Improve Children’s literacy:

National Literacy Trust, a charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the United Kingdom, recently published a study that showed community volunteers can improve how parents and caregivers support their children’s early literacy development.

The study involved over 1500 families and used peer volunteers to increase families’ confidence in supporting positive literacy attitudes and behaviors. Volunteers took part in six weekly sessions with an assigned family, and it showed vast improvements in literacy development.

  • 84% of parents felt that the project would have a long-term impact on their child’s reading and communication skills
  • 100% felt more confident in attending literacy activities, with more than half saying that they would not have been able to attend without the help of their volunteer
  • 52% showed an improved engagement with books
  • 46% showed improved speaking and listening skills

Volunteering your time to help parents synthesize their children’s literacy skills is both fun and rewarding! Activities can include a family visit to a local library for story time or play groups, singing and rhyming together, or even just reading a book together! Opportunities are endless!

To read the full study, go to http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/news/4726

Missed Opportunity

The past few months have been full of excitement and anticipation for me. I was due to meet the mayor of the City of Edmonton on September 7th, 2012. This was International Literacy Day.  In celebration of this big event, over 8 Literacy Organizations in the Edmonton area (under the umbrella of Literacy Works), and including the Center for Family Literacy, joined hands and organized a book give-away at the Clareview and Churchhill LRT stations, where hundreds of transit riders were to receive a free book. I was honored to represent the Centre for Family Literacy for this big event.

 Mr. Stephen Mandel, the mayor of the city of Edmonton was taking part in the book give-away. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was going to share the platform with the mayor. I woke up at 5:00 am and started preparing myself.  I put on my lucky colourful top and headed for the Churchhill station. This was one occasion, when I was determined not to be late.

The book give away was a success.  We gave away many books and bookmarks to the transit riders. While I was excited to connect with the people and share the books with them, I was still on the lookout for the mayor’s arrival. I was disappointed when by eight o’clock the mayor had presumably not turned up. “He must have forgotten all about us”, I confided in one of colleagues.

Unbeknownst to us, the mayor had come and all the time I was waiting for him he was standing right in front of me, handing out books to unsuspecting LRT riders. It was evident from their response to his attempts to give them a free book and a bookmark that they did not recognize him. Many of them ignored him or they just smiled politely and passed him without a hint of recognition. We missed the opportunity to formally introduce ourselves to the mayor because we did not recognize him.

This experience brings to mind the 40% of Albertans who struggle with reading and writing. I thought about the many opportunities they possibly miss because of their struggle with reading. The information may be available, yet it is inaccessible to them.   As a result, they end up with limited knowledge and awareness, thus missing out on opportunities right at their doorstep.

The Centre for Family Literacy and other Literacy organizations in Edmonton play an important role in helping learners with low literacy levels to improve their reading and writing by offering one-on-one and group tutoring. This tutoring equips the learners with the literacy skills and enables them to function effectively in society.

Would you like to make a difference in someone’s life? It is easier than you think. Call the Centre for Family Literacy at 780-421-7323 for more information.

Play-Based Learning

We, at the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. bus, like play.  We like to see parents (or Grandparents, or any other significant adult in a child’s life) come on the bus and spend time playing with their child. Interestingly, the Council of Ministers of Education Canada has recently released a statement recognizing the value of play-based learning.  You can read the whole statement here:


Even though we really like and encourage play, and we have all sorts of interesting and fun things to play with on the bus, there are just some things that don’t work well on a bus…like playdough.

Making playdough with your kids and then spending time playing with it can provide a rich learning experience and hours of entertainment.

So here is one of my favourite recipes for playdough:

Kool-aid playdough


• 1 – 11/4 cup flour

• 1/4 cup salt

• 1 pkg powdered unsweetened kool-aid (or other equivalent powdered drink mix)

• 1 cup boiling water

• 1 1/2 -2Tbsp vegetable oil


1.  In a bowl, mix 1 cup flour, salt and kool-aid (the brighter colours work best)

2.  Stir in water and oil

3.  Knead with hands.  Gradually add more flour and oil if needed.

Continue kneading for about 5 minutes.

4.  Play!

5.  Store in sealed bag in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Summer Reading

Okay, this will seem like an odd choice for summer reading, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway.  I recently catalogued and shelved a complete set of Apprenticeship Support Materials for our library.  These study materials cover every competency in the “Entrance Level Competencies for Apprenticeship Programs”.  There are manuals or guides for reading comprehension, math and science – 11 guides in all covering exam levels 1 through 5.

Partly my interest was piqued because if there is one thing we know in Alberta, it is that there is a driving need for skilled trades people.  Industry scours the world looking for them.  So I was interested in what is involved in becoming an apprentice in one of the trades.  I opened the Math Module 1 – Foundations.

Right away I was impressed with how clearly the guide was written.  Everything is explained, words are defined and there are tips and helpful pieces of advice all along the way.

These guides are designed for independent study.  There are 5 levels from foundational concepts of numbers and operations in Module 1 to the complexities of equations & patterns, vectors, and statistics & probability in Module 5.

Parameters are clearly defined: it stresses that what will be assessed at each level is “what you know” rather than “how you learned it”, and that only what you need to know for entrance into a trade will be assessed.

In a side bar is the tip: “Don’t waste time. Only learn what you need to know.”

I flipped through the guide to the section on “Bases, Exponents and Square Roots” and started to read.  Neurons that hadn’t fired in decades lit up and the next thing you know I was working on a problem:

“Calculate the cube of 3 ¾. Express the mixed number as an improper fraction and multiply.”

Okay, so that’s 3 times 4 = 12 plus 3 is 15 over 4.  Then 15 cubed is 3375 over 4 cubed is 64.  Then divide 64 into 3375 and I get 52.73.  Uncover the answer – yes I’m right.  Eee-haw.

Okay, I know this is pretty basic math but it was actually fun.  Getting a problem “right” is a good feeling.  I mean everything else in life is in shades of grey, but in math you’re either right or you’re wrong.


(And now I’ll wait for the math whizzes to tell me of the complexity of the mathematical language, its nuances and shades all that it contains.  Gulp.)

For more information, go to these websites:



Family Literacy in the Workplace, Does it Work?

Research shows:

  • Adult and workplace literacy programs may be underused because of employee fear or sense of stigma
  • Adults with low literacy skills will often participate in literacy programs to benefit their child. Parents join because the focus is on helping their children, as opposed to their own abilities
  • Family literacy programs have been successfully used as the “hook” or “carrot” to get reluctant workers into training programs
  • Adults retain information and skills picked up in the workplace training to a greater degree when the training materials are related to day-to-day experiences at work, home and communities

Family Literacy in the workplace is about overcoming these barriers, getting employees interested in learning and comfortable with taking training, and creating an intergenerational cycle of achievement.

Parents gain the confidence to reenter the learning system and pursue other training.

Family literacy initiatives in the workplace can make a difference in areas such as recruitment of workers, job satisfaction and retention, promotion and especially providing a pathway into additional training and work related skill development. Encouraging employees to learn at work has implications for key elements of business success especially in the areas of safety and productivity.

One of the Centre’s national projects was conducting research based family literacy workplace pilot projects in Alberta. One pilot was run in Brooks at a large manufacturing plant with an English as a Second language program that had a hard time getting people signed up for training let alone getting the results the business needed.

A family literacy program model called B.O.O.K.S. (Books Offer Our Kids Success) was piloted with 25 participants during the lunch hour. Participants were shown how to expand different children’s books by using a nonfiction book or looking up things on the computer or doing a craft or activity associated with the story.

In the Brooks pilot, discussion of the themes of children’s books led naturally into discussions of work related interests such as job aspirations and workplace safety. Outcomes included enhanced communication in the workplace and enhanced family enjoyment of learning. At the conclusion of the pilot, the company decided to continue B.O.O.K.S. with over 50 employees on a wait list for the next program.

For more information go to http://www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_pr.shtml where you will find downloadable resources on workplace family literacy

What do you think?