Down Time


While getting ready to go on vacation I have been pondering about what kind of down time I want to have. My preference has changed many times over the years.

When I was little, vacation time was a busy time for doing things and going places.

I remember playing licence plate bingo on long car rides. How exciting it was when we saw a licence plate from Florida or some other faraway place! I don’t recall at what age we started playing that game, but it was a great way to identify patterns in letters and to understand that the letters meant the name of a place.

As a teenager, I just wanted to spend my spare time reading or watching TV, even on summer vacation. In my early teens I remember reading novels and then making my mother read them too. I thought sharing the books I could identify with would help her to understand me.

I realize now how patient she was in reading and then talking about those stories with me. Often her interpretation of the story was different than mine, and through our discussion our comprehension grew.

During my young adult life I wanted to spend any down time with my friends while learning all the social contexts of relationships.

Becoming a parent changed my perspective of down time yet again. Instead of leisure time it became any time baby was napping or when the kids were finally in bed for the night. “Down time” was used for finishing chores which were more difficult to do when the little ones were awake.

Now my daughter has left the nest, my husband and I are both working long hours, and down time is often used for unwinding because we are tired. I still enjoy reading each evening, relaxing my mind and continuing to build my knowledge about all kinds of things, people and places.

This vacation it will be interesting to see what we do with our down time. At least it is nice to think we have a choice.

Planning for the New Year

January is a reflective time of year for most families. When we look back at last year, are we satisfied with our accomplishments? What do we hope for in the new year?

Some of our hopes often seem to be unattainable. Do we all dream of winning the lottery and retiring to live in the sunshine – or is that just me?

How can we make our hopes become a reality? Often the first step is to talk about them. It helps to write them down and break things into smaller, manageable pieces. My family used to sit and talk about our hopes for the year ahead and my daughter would “take the minutes”. She felt very important, and we got to talk as a family about some of the bigger issues that don’t often come up in our day to day lives. My daughter still loves to write and use calendars to plan!

One January we made plans for special family activities that we wanted to do over the year. As we talked it was surprising to find that we each had different ideas of what was special. My husband was focused on a one week driving vacation; I thought it would be fun to learn something like snowshoeing, as a family; and my daughter just thought it would be fun to go sledding together more often. With this in mind, we planned times to do all of it and we each got our special time.

Do you plan together as a family? How has it gone? Were you surprised by the richness of ideas that came forward and the fun you had, not only while you did the activities but also the planning?

The Language of Symbols










Do you remember all the work that went into learning to read? I was reminded recently while at a conference in Montreal where I experienced immersion into a french speaking world. I have been reading fluently for so long that it is difficult to work so hard for the meaning of each word. It is easy to forget how complicated language development is for our children; it has been so long since we learned ourselves.

I caught myself listening to other people’s conversations and listening for familiar sounds or words. This is one of the strategies children use to learn and why it is so important for them to hear a language spoken regularly and fluently.

I then used my brain in a different way as I looked at words and signs and tried to figure out their meaning by using the pictures or symbols next to them. On my first night I walked along the street by my hotel in search of a restaurant that I would enjoy. I found one with a sign that had Cafe in the title, which was promising, but it also had symbols of dancing girls on it. Despite my concept of the meaning of the word, I decided to use the symbols on the sign to determine that I should keep on walking.

The next day I took the subway and again relied heavily on symbols. Thank goodness the symbols on the maps matched those at each station! Symbols and pictures are the “map” that we use to decode language and the head start of all language development and comprehension.

See if you can recognize some of these symbols:


What I Learned by Reading for READ IN Week

I had the opportunity to read to a kindergarten class at Lady of Peace School this morning as part of the READ IN Week activities, and on my drive back to work I reflected on the time I had spent with the class.

My days are usually spent in meetings or on my computer, so being with so many young  and excited children was a very different experience. I read a simple story about how reading makes you feel good; they had so many questions and so many things they wanted to share. The enthusiasm and energetic participation of the group was amazing. The children didn’t hesitate to share an answer because, in their mind, there were no wrong answers.

What a lesson for me! How often do we participate half-heartedly in meetings or groups, or hold back on suggesting ideas because they might be wrong?

My takeaway is to remember to bring my enthusiasm, energy and ideas to the table just as Mrs. Kim’s kindergarten class did!

Family Storytelling

In family literacy, we often talk about the importance of oral storytelling. One way to support this is to encourage parents to tell children the story of their birth. This not only encourages their language development, but also creates the bond that comes from sharing experiences and memories together. It can quickly become a family tradition with children asking, “Mommy, please tell me about when I was born again.”

As a twist on this, I called my mother today to wish her a Happy 71st Birthday and realized that I had heard stories about her childhood before but never the story of when she was born.  So I asked her and we spent the next hour sharing this and many other stories about her time growing up.  This rich history and memory sharing is so valuable to all of our families.

Have you talked to your mother about the story of her birth?  I encourage you to do so.  We made many memories today during our sharing!

Preparing for the school year

For the first time in many years, I helped two children get ready to go to school and I was surprised by the focus on making sure that they have all the supplies  and new clothes that they need. So much is needed to go to school and learn.  What an opportunity to share the love of learning! It is a chance to share some of your back-to-school stories and talk about the difference between needs and wants, what things cost and what is important to your family.  Have you talked about all the great experiences they will have?  How are you preparing your children for the choices they will make in the school year ahead and into their future?


I am an avid reader averaging at least 2-3 books weekly and could never imagine not being able to go to my bookshelves and pick out a book I am in the mood to read.  The physical act of holding the book and turning the pages and being able to take it and prop it up on the cereal box or read it in the bathtub are pleasures I would not want to replace.
But it turns out that the act of reading is enjoyable whether you do it with an eReader or a paperback.  I have recently started reading eBooks and realize I can now enjoy both ways of reading.  My eReader is much lighter to carry when I am packing for a trip –  no more husband complaining I have packed too many books in my suitcase!  There is a wide  variety of eBooks you can download free or request from your library and then have with you for whenever you feel like reading or one of those waiting room opportunities pops up!  It also addresses the different reading moods you might be in. I have all kinds of different genres to match my mood. My eReader also  physically props up very well when I am reading lying down and only needs one finger to turn the pages.
 So, have I replaced my book shelves with my eReader?   Not a chance!   But I have added my eBooks to my choices when I am reading.
Have you tried reading on an iPad or eReader?  What have you discovered?

Marina Endicott’s Book: Good to a Fault

The Centre was recently invited to speak at an author reading at McDougall United Church.   Marina Endicott read aloud some of her favourite passages from her second book, Good to a Fault.

It was an interesting read exploring what it means to be “good,” but what was really intriguing was hearing the author speak about living with these characters and how she didn’t like many of them, but felt sorry that she kept making bad things happen to them.

Having the author explain how she came up with the characters’ motivations and beliefs was fascinating and changes the way you have understood and perceived the story originally.

Have you heard an author speak about their book before?  What did you think?

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 where you will find downloadable resources on workplace family literacy

What do you think?