A Momentous Event in Edmonton

Truth and Reconciliation Commission:  Alberta National Event

Edmonton Shaw Conference Centre March 27-30, 2014

A momentous event is taking place in Edmonton. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is holding the seventh and final national gathering to hear from and honour survivors of Indian Residential Schools.

This gathering will take place at the Shaw Conference Centre from Thursday of this week right through Sunday. There is no formal registration and the event is free. You can find all the details at:


The descriptions, times and places of all of the activities (sharing circles, panels, films, traditional ceremonies, discussions and dialogues, expressions of reconciliation) can be found in a downloadable program on the main website.

Until very recently most Canadians did not know the truth of the Indian Residential Schools. They did not know that over a period of 116 years about 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were taken, forcibly if necessary, from their homes, from loving parents, grandparents, extended families and communities to schools far away from their homes. That would have been bad enough but, in fact, the purpose of the schools was to break the connection of the children to their cultures, languages, traditions and spiritual beliefs, to “take the Indian out of them”. And there was more. The children were abused physically, psychologically and sometimes sexually. They were malnourished and lived in crowded, ill-kept schools. They died of TB, flu, and other illnesses, as well as from accidents.

This is a dark part of our history that we did not know until recently. I think it is hard for us to admit that in Canada such horrifying things were done to young children. Some people wish to deny that it happened. That is understandable, but it is not right. Now we can listen to the survivors, we can honour their suffering, we can work together to heal and reconcile our communities. In the final gathering this week (Mar 27-30), there will be sharing circles at different times every day, over the four-day period.

By attending we also honour the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities’ incredible strength, fortitude and ability to survive.

More information about the TRC can be found at the links below:

What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3

Truth and Reconciliation Commission FAQ http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=10


Unplugging on Family Day!

Every year I hear the term “unplug” for Family Day and every year I have great intentions to put away my phone and other devices and spend the day uninterrupted with my family.  Any guesses on how that went? One of my favourite excuses was “I wasn’t using technology but everyone else was, so I gave in”.

It can be scary to disconnect from all the technology we use every day. It has become the go-to for information on what is happening in the lives of family and friends. We have become disconnected with each other as we rely more and more on technology to connect us. I think technology has become so invasive in our everyday lives that it is sometimes hard to even think of games or activities to do together that do not involve some form of technology.

Last year, my fiancé and I decided that since we had never been able make it a whole day unplugged, we would instead choose a few activities to do together throughout the day. At these times, we would put away all devices and just focus on connecting with each other.

It worked great! We probably spent half the day without our devices. We played games for an hour or two, went for a walk with the dog, and went out for lunch. Afterwards we had our device time. We still felt like we were spending time together or with extended family because while we were connected to our devices we were talking to family or connecting with them on Facebook, playing games together on the Wii, or watching movies with each other. We did this throughout the day and had a really great time together.

We had so much fun unplugged that we have extended it beyond Family Day. At least a couple of nights a week, we pull out the cards or dice and play Crazy Eights Countdown or Yatzhee.

My goal this year is to try to increase the time we spend unplugged from our devices by even an hour or two. Eventually I would like to be able to complete the entire day device free. However, I know that whatever happens I will have spent at least some quality, unplugged time together with my family – and that is what really matters.

I would encourage everyone to unplug this long weekend for Family Day – you never know where it might take you. Have a great weekend and please share your Family Day activities with the Centre for Family Literacy.

If you’re looking for some fun, inexpensive activities to do this weekend in Edmonton, check out http://www.edmonton.ca/unplugged or http://www.fsccaa.or/.

Creating a Sense of Belonging: the Learner Club

One on one tutoring presents both opportunities and challenges to adult learners, who need flexibility of time and space for their learning. While one on one tutoring opens up access for adult learners, it can create a sense of isolation and fewer ties to other learners. The concept of a learner club at the Centre for Family Literacy was shaped out of the need to create a sense of community and belonging among these learners and connection to the Centre.

The main goal for the Learner Club is to create a forum that allows for interaction between learners, where they feel accepted, respected and supported.

At the learner club, learners:

  • meet and connect with other learners
  • learn while having fun
  • find out about resources in the community
  • and share a light supper.

So far, we have had four successful Learner Clubs, and we have discussed:

  • health Issues
  • municipal Issues
  • poetry writing
  • and tips for travel outside of Canada.

The Learner Clubs have been well received and participation has ranged from 8-14 learners. Learners have given positive feedback after each meeting and have indicated that they have enjoyed the Learner Club because they:

  • learn many interesting things
  • get to know one another
  • learn about other cultures
  • eat good food
  • have fun
  • get to spend time with their friends
  • feel safe and comfortable
  • do not feel judged
  • find the Staff at the Centre warm and welcoming
  • and can express themselves freely.

The last Learner Club, which took place on January 22, 2014, was unique in the sense that it was held on the eve of the Leading with Literacy Breakfast, where the Lois Hole Memorial Literacy Awards are presented. We took the opportunity to talk about the event and to recognize and congratulate the learner who was going to receive the 2014 award in the Adult Learner category the following morning. It was exciting to note that four out of the 14 participants at the Learner Club that evening were past recipients of the same award. With interest I observed as former recipients offered words of advice and encouragement to the 2014 recipient, who was stricken by the idea of making a speech in acceptance of the award.

The 2013 award winner advised her to write and rehearse the speech, the 2011 winner suggested that she avoid eye contact, and the 2008 recipient wished her luck and advised her to make it short and sweet. During the discussion, the former recipients reiterated that the award was a strong motivation for them to continue participation in the literacy activities at the Centre. “We see ourselves as champions”, said the 2011 recipient.

In the Learner Club, study is learner initiated. We encourage learners to share their views and experiences in a trusting and open environment. The learners themselves suggested all the topics of interest and discussion.

Some of the topics suggested for future discussion were:

  • citizenship and immigration issues
  • fraud
  • obtaining a drivers’ license
  • filling out forms
  • and job application and preparation for job interviews.

The Learner Club opens doors so that participants can actively learn new things. For example, in the last Learner Club, a learner who is a monk from Laos made a presentation he entitled “Lao, the Heart of East Asia,” in which he animatedly talked about the attractions in his home country.

This was followed by an interesting presentation on “tips for travel outside of Canada” by one of our tutors. I noted with interest the learners’ excitement when they asked questions and shared their views on the topic, while some shared funny and memorable travel experiences.

The evening ended on a high note with the group singing our popular piece:

The more we get together, together, together
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.
Then my friends are your friends
and your friends are my friends 
the more we get together the happier we’ll be…

We are excited about the Learner Clubs because we create a space where learners come together and mix naturally, get to know one another, grow in confidence, and truly know that they are not alone in their situations.

Our next Club will take place on February 26, 2014.

We welcome everyone.


Halloween Traditions

Halloween has always been a big celebration in my household. Every year in October we would bring out all of the previous year’s costumes and have a fashion show. We would decide on our new costume for the year and make a list of all the new things we would need to add. I can remember being a gypsy, a witch, Little Bo Peep, and many others. After the fashion show we would decorate the house. The decorations we made in school were added to the collection of plastic spiders, webbing, and skeleton stickers for the windows. My mother still has a few of her favourite Halloween decorations that my sister and I made.

Closer to October 31, we would all go to the store and pick out our pumpkins for the time-honoured tradition of pumpkin carving. We would spread garbage bags over the living room floor and scoop out the inside of the pumpkin until it was clean – first with our bare hands and then with a spoon. Next would come the debate on how we would like to decorate our pumpkins this year. Would it be a scary face or funny? To start we would draw the face with a permanent marker, then hand the pumpkin over to our parents to carve. Eventually, as my sister and I grew up, we were able to take over all pumpkin carving duties. I can still remember the first year I was able to carve my pumpkin all by myself. Unfortunately the pumpkin didn’t turn out as well as it had on previous Halloweens.

Even now, years later, pumpkin carving is my favourite part of Halloween. I still spread out garbage bags on the living room floor and debate what to carve on the pumpkin. I have graduated from triangle eyes and crooked mouths to designs of witches, cats, and sometimes even star wars characters. In recent years I have started to save and roast the pumpkins seeds. So far I haven’t attempted to cook with the actual pumpkin but I hope to try something this year.

To me, Halloween isn’t about trick or treating and how much candy you can get. It’s about time spent together with family and traditions. I hope one day to pass down the Halloween traditions that I love so much.

I always like to hear others’ experiences of Halloween. Please share your favourite memories, costumes, and experiences with me.


Pick Up a Book and Get Active?

A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? For me, reading a book means finding a comfortable spot to curl up without distractions. How do you get active with something that’s supposed to be relaxing?

All I can say is that it’s a good thing literacy isn’t just about reading a book. It could be about a scavenger hunt with a detailed list to follow, or running a marathon and following the signs. Think about all the rhymes you used as a child skipping (http://www.gameskidsplay.net/jump_rope_ryhmes/) or doing clapping games (http://funclapping.com/). These fun rhymes and songs help build vocabulary and a foundation in language – necessary for future literacy learning.

In my small village, we have an amazing program team that comes up with activities for kids to participate in all summer. The activity this past Monday was based on the television show “Mantracker.” (Here’s the link for those of you like me who have never seen it: http://www.mantracker.ca/)

My kids got a map and a legend for checkpoints their team had to get a flag from.  If our summer programmer – all dressed in camouflage with fake leaves and everything – caught them, they had to give up a flag.

Not only did my kids have fun, but what a great way to engage in a literacy activity around maps and legends! Linking it to the popular show ensured the activity was well attended and the kids knew what to expect.

This summer, when kids are bored or become couch potatoes stuck to an electronic device with the usual excuses of “my friends aren’t home” or “it’s too hot outside” or – you know I could go on and on here – challenge them to find a way to get active in literacy! They could make up their own “mantracker” game, find a skipping rope and rhymes, or put on a scavenger hunt.

The possibilities are endless and limited only by imagination. And you never know. Someone may even enjoy reading a book while bouncing on a trampoline!

National Aboriginal Day

This Friday, June 21 is National Aboriginal Day. There will be celebrations across the country during the week, as well as on Friday. It is an opportunity for us to enjoy the summer solstice (at last!) and celebrate Aboriginal peoples and their cultures at the same time.

The Manito Ahbee (a festival organization) in Winnipeg is partnering with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) to host a National Aboriginal Day Competition Pow Wow at the Forks on June 22. You can follow the action live online, courtesy of the APTN, at http://www.aboriginaldaylive.com/. Click on the link to read all about it.

Among the entertainers at the Pow Wow will be A Tribe Called Red. I love this song of theirs, called Look At This: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBCoDAbh3yM. The song made for a great hip hop/pow wow performance during last year’s celebrations in Toronto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEpD3yQ3p_4

Edmonton Celebrations

The City of Edmonton has provided a poster for some of the National Aboriginal Day local events.  Click here: http://www.edmonton.ca/attractions_recreation/documents/NAD2013EventsPoster.pdf

The event on Saturday at the Legislature Grounds is the one of the nicest to attend. The grounds are beautiful to walk and the Artisan Fair and the Community Cultural Exhibits Display, set up by 2 p.m., guarantee there is lots to see. The Grand Entry and Ceremonial Honouring starts at 5 p.m. and a there is a concert at 6 p.m. If you haven’t been before, I really encourage you to go.

Bent Arrow will be serving a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m. on June 21 and following that up with face painting, traditional games, dancers and drummers and something that sounds untraditional but interesting: a “bouncy castle”! Details here: http://bentarrow.ca/?s=june+21+pancake+brea

Finally, St. Albert is hosting an Aboriginal Day Festival on June 23. The Opening Ceremony will begin at 12 noon. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/AboriginalDay.StAlbert

Come and join the fun!

A “Hug” for Family Literacy

Every year in March I have the pleasure of doing a presentation for students in the Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta.  Dr. Margaret Mackey brings her students to the Centre for Family Literacy to help provide a real, practical connection for all the theory her class has been learning.

I am very passionate about family literacy and this type of situation – where a solid link can be made between the student’s learning and our practical experience – it provides an amazing opportunity to raise awareness and get others excited about it too.

During this year’s presentation, I talked specifically about a book called “Hug” by Jez Alborough.  It is mainly a picture book with just a few words, the most significant being the word “hug”.  The amount of words allow this book to be shared by a family in many different ways – in their own language, making up a story to go with the pictures, acting out the hugs and emotions together.  It is a wonderful and versatile book.

I have a fondness for this book in that it was one I shared with my children.  My son and I read this book together many times and I remember one day he was showing it to his sister.  He got so excited and came up to me afterwards to show me how he had “read” the book to his sister. He was three years old, but he knew what that book said and how it sounded. It was a proud day for him and for me.

Today, I received a thank you card from the students at my presentation. Inside were some amazing comments of thanks and excitement about what they had learned with me. The power of family literacy in helping adults who struggle with literacy was evident and they had seen the passion and care with which we work. The seed of knowledge about family literacy was planted within their learning and awareness was built.

Within all these wonderful comments, one stood out a little. One of the students had gone out and bought the book “Hug” after hearing my story for her new niece. I hope she is able to get as much out of it as I have!

Family Day Challenge

February 18 is Family Day! Family Day is a day that, although I’m feeling a little redundant in saying it, is devoted to being with family. It’s also a great reason to have a holiday in February since the groundhog doesn’t really justify one.

This Family Day, my family is participating in a challenge that is becoming more popular every year.  It’s called Family Day Unplugged. The challenge is to go without using your technology for a full day in order to devote all of your attention to your family.

Can it be done?  I personally believe it can, and probably should be done on a more regular basis. My family is planning on doing some snowshoeing or skating or bowling together – something we never seem to have the time to do, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Are you going to take the challenge?  Can you unplug for a whole day?  If so, what does your family plan on doing?

Whatever Family Day looks like to you, I hope you are able to enjoy it with your family in a way that suits you. If you would like more information on Family Day Unplugged, here is Edmonton’s website for the event: http://www.edmonton.ca/for_residents/programs/family-day-unplugged.aspx

National Family Literacy Day

This year’s theme for National Family Literacy Day on January 27 is “15 Minutes of Fun”.  It reflects the fact that it doesn’t always take a long time to do literacy activities with your children and that it should be fun for everyone!

What kind of activities can you do with your kids every day?  ABC Life Literacy has developed a list of suggestions at http://abclifeliteracy.ca/fld/family-literacy-day.

Here’s what my kids and I came up with – I look forward to you adding your ideas to our list!

  • Make up a silly song from one we already know
  • Do a rhythm story game (clap, clap, snap, snap – one word for each clap or snap and we go around in a circle)
  • Read a book
  • Talk about traditions
  • Go for a walk
  • Play a letter game (name an animal then the next person has to name an animal that starts with the letter the last one ended with – eg. wolf – fox)

The Centre for Family Literacy has partnered with MacEwan University students in the Golden Key International Honour Society, to celebrate Family Literacy Day this year.  Bring your family to the Family Literacy Carnival event from 1-4 pm at the main floor of Robbins Health Learning Centre, downtown campus on Sunday, January 27.  More details can be found at: http://www.macewan.ca/wcm/MacEwanEvents/FAMILY_LITERACY_CARNIVAL

What’s Your Favourite Holiday Tradition?

Every year I look forward to Christmas.  I like setting up the Christmas tree with my family and reminiscing over old ornaments and past Christmases.

For the last 4 years it has just been my fiancé and myself setting up the Christmas decorations.  While I sometimes miss the loud and crazy times, I have come to appreciate and love the quietness of our new Christmas tradition.  I am one of those people who have the “show home tree”.  I have 3 separate sets of tree decorations that I rotate every year.  Each has their own matching color scheme with a few accent colours to really make the tree “POP”.  Having no kids, it’s easy for me to avoid the homemade ornaments and the haphazard look of children’s decorating.  I’ve been told that once I have children, I will love the above-mentioned tree; however, I think I might go with the new trend that’s starting – a small tree for the children to decorate and the main tree for me.

I say “me” but to be fair my fiancé does help me decorate.  He helps me pull out the tree, set it up, and put the lights on.  He is then happy to sit back and put on a favorite Christmas movie while watching me finish decorating. (Side note *** As I re-read what I have written I do realize I sound like a decorating tyrant – but my fiancé isn’t one of those patient decorators.  He’d be more than happy stopping with lights.)  I ask his opinion on the placement of ornaments and he lets me know where I need more, or where I need to take away a few.

After the tree, I set up the Christmas village and my collection of snow globes.  Every year I debate setting up a few of the statues that we have been given as gifts, and every year they go back into the box with the excuse of “no more room for knickknacks”.

This routine has become our Christmas tradition. It may not be the tradition that I grew up with, but it works really well for us.  While I like the loud, chaotic pace of my extended family, I love the nice, quiet evening I get to spend with my partner.