Statement of Need
Research demonstrates that it is more difficult for parents with low levels of literacy to support their children’s literacy development and to pass on positive attitudes about schooling and the importance of learning to read and write. About 36% of adult Albertans have literacy skills below a minimum acceptable level (International Adult Literacy Survey, 1994). There is a tendency for low literacy levels to be repeated from one generation to the next. Adult literacy and family literacy programs offer opportunities to break this cycle.
Literacy is a primary indicator of health and is also associated with low income, lack of and/or under-employment, and involvement in the criminal justice system. Literacy challenges are most often associated with individuals having low resources as a result of language barriers, single parenthood, insufficient education and/or low income. Research also demonstrates that parents will participate in and stay in literacy programs more readily for their children’s sake than on their own behalf.
Family Literacy programs support the whole family in achieving their educational goals and also in developing nurturing relationships and building social networks. Adults who participate in family literacy programs see their own literacy skills improve, and then sometimes cross over to adult literacy programming.
Recent results from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (Lipps & Yiptong-Avila, 1999) showed that children who have been read to several times a day did substantially better in kindergarten than youngsters whose parents read to them a few times a week or less often. The group of children who were read to on a daily basis were 1.6 times as likely to be rated by their teachers as being near the top of their kindergarten class in learning skills and 2.3 times as likely to be near the top of their class in communication skills. These children were also better at performing mathematical tasks. These relationships hold true regardless of the income of the child’s household and the education of the child’s mother.
Lipps and Yiptong-Avila also point out that some research with severely disadvantaged children suggests that early childhood programs have a positive impact even over and above nutritional supplementation. Increasingly, then, research is pointing to the influence of parental involvement on children’s academic achievement and success in life.
In the past ten years, the family literacy field, as well as many other sectors, has begun to recognize the important role of parents in their children’s learning. They are encouraging parents to support their children’s learning, and families to learn together. The broader education field is also increasingly recognizing the important role parents play in children’s development, long before children enter school. Both adult and family literacy programs help adults who are parents to play their roles as first teachers and literacy role models.
A family-based approach encourages parents to participate in programs they may not otherwise access, because they want to help their children. Because of the continuum of services and range of programs at the Centre for Family Literacy we are able to reach families at many points in their family cycles. We are then able to draw parents into other programs such as writing workshops and adult literacy tutoring. Thus there is value added when early intervention optimizes success for the children, while at the same time parents are encouraged to upgrade and pursue their own educational goals. The whole family benefits.
Furthermore, because literacy develops in the context of ordinary, everyday activities, it is important to involve the whole community in supporting literacy development in families. The oft-quoted adage that it takes a community to raise a child is also applicable to literacy. It is only when we sensitize other community groups to literacy issues and enable them to incorporate literacy work into their own mandates that we will truly make a difference to literacy statistics.
It is important to note that family literacy programs operate at several levels:
Intellectual: a plethora of brain research points to the need for early stimulation in order to optimize brain development.
Emotional: promotes warm and loving interactions between parents and children, as well as positive ways of coping with the challenges of child-rearing.
Social: encourages sharing of challenges and issues with other parents in a group setting, thus building links with other parents and promoting stronger social networks.
Adult literacy programs, also, work at several levels - building self esteem as well as literacy skills, and offering support and social opportunities to adult students.
Goal 1: Adults and parents will improve their literacy skills.
Goal 2: Babies, pre-schoolers and elementary school-age children will increase their language and early literacy skills.
Goal 3: Relationships between parents and children will be strengthened.
Goal 4: Parents will more actively participate in the development, growth and education of their children.
Goal 5: Parents, adults and partnering agencies will understand the roles of adult and family literacy in the development of healthy families and communities.
Goal 6: Community agencies are more effective in raising awareness and delivering services.