There’s just no way around it: Your child’s literacy skills can make or break his academic performance. As we’ve reported before, if your child can’t read, write, or comprehend what he is reading, it has an impact on virtually every subject he studies at in school. We have encouraged parents to get involved in their children’s education and offered advice on how parents can help develop childhood literacy skills at home. But what happens when one parent—or both—is illiterate? How does it impact their child’s academic success?
According to Emily Kirkpatrick, Vice President of the National Center for Family Literacy, children pick up habits and model their behavior after their parents. They learn language skills before they ever learn to read. Children’s language grows when they talk with adults who have better speaking skills, know more words, and read books aloud to them.
“If there are no books in the home,” Kirkpatrick says, “and children never see their parents reading, then they are less likely to read themselves.” And illiterate parents, she adds, also won’t be equipped to help their children build the skills needed to start school.
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This month we celebrate National Family Literacy Month®. And at the forefront of the celebration is the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), whose work has impacted more than one million families across the United States. Their dual-generation approach is unique—centered on the belief that parents and children form a learning partnership that most effectively creates educational and economic gains.
Latino families, in particular, struggle with literacy proficiency. Kirkpatrick says the greatest challenges in working with Latino families stem primarily from differences in the education system if the parents were raised in another country. Their family literacy programs are ideally positioned to help those families navigate the oftentimes confusing educational system and help them understand the role parents have in U.S. schools.
However, at the same time, Kirkpatrick says they’ve seen exciting trends that offer important advantages to Latino families, such as their interest and predisposition to social media. NCFL looks for the strengths already present in families to further literacy, and this particular aspect has led to The Hispanic-Latino and Families Digital Technologies Forum, which was convened by NCFL in partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the National Council of La Raza.
Held in June 2012, it was the first forum to bring together the nation’s leading scholars on digital media, learning and family life, as well as practitioners, policymakers and philanthropists. These leaders have begun the process of developing national initiatives to accelerate the growing—and productive—use of technologies among Hispanic-Latino families with young children. You can look through their forum video, panelist papers, and more at their website.
In 2003, NCFL also established the Toyota Family Literacy Program (TFLP), a groundbreaking program in 30 cities across the country. It was the first nationwide project of its kind specifically created for Hispanic and other immigrant families, and continues to benefit them today. Parents and children learn together in a classroom with programming that is culturally relevant.
“Program participants have experienced extraordinary outcomes in English language and literacy development, parental involvement and engagement, literacy at home, and school-related attitudes and behaviors,” says Kirkpatrick.
Here at Mamiverse, we’ve launched our own effort to increase childhood literacy. The Mamiverse Reads Pledge Drive asks participants to commit to reading to their kids at least 15 minutes a day, and offers the chance to win free books.
There are many other individuals and organizations working to promote family literacy across the country. And to encourage and support those programs, NCFL has launched two educator award programs: The Toyota Teacher of the Year award and the Litera-Seeds Mini-Grants.
To learn more about National Family Literacy Month®, visit FamLit.org.