Everyone learns in family literacy programs

Family literacy programs differ from other literacy programs in that each member of the family is learning.

STRONGSTART is one of many programs in the Comox Valley that foster literacy.

STRONGSTART is one of many programs in the Comox Valley that foster literacy.

Family literacy programs differ from other literacy programs in that each member of the family is learning — whether it is grandmother, father, cousin or child.

Family literacy practitioners shape programs to meet the needs of the families. Some programs focus on child development in which parents learn age-appropriate developmental learning activities. Other programs focus on language.

• Carlene Steeves and Colleen Friendship are leading family literacy practitioners in the Comox Valley. They are School District 71 StrongStart facilitators and literacy outreach workers. Both Carlene and Colleen have created and facilitated many family literacy programs throughout their careers.

One such program is Mother Goose and More.

This program began five years ago when Carlene observed that young immigrant families were reluctant to participate in Strong Start due to their limited fluency in English. The school district partnered with the Adult Learning Centre ESL program and created a program that gives the adults an opportunity to learn and practice their English with a trained ESL tutor.

The program also involves family play-based activities, songs and rhymes, child-focused literacy activities and of course, a meal. “Eating together creates a moment in which families can sit down and get to know one another and the facilitators informally, thereby building community,” Carlene says. “It is through these connections, interactions and modeling that adults and children learn in a family literacy program. Adults practice skills at a comfortable level while maintaining the very important role as their child’s first teacher.”

• Another example of a family literacy program is the Waiting for the Bus program at Glacier View Learning Centre.

Two years ago, Colleen Friendship observed that many families were waiting at Glacier View with their pre-schoolers to take a bus up to Queneesh Elementary to pick up their school-aged children. Colleen encouraged the families to come to the “bus stop” an hour and a half early and participate in a program.

Last year, with the support of multiple community partners and the families themselves, the program grew into the FLO (family literacy outreach) program. The program was extended to include meal preparation and eating together, family literacy activities, and an opportunity for adults to work with an employment readiness counsellor and/or a North Island College upgrading instructor.

The program was a resounding success.

One mom said: “I am very glad programs like this are available. I was able to think about my next steps — my education and work. I also learned how to make simple healthy meals. My son loved it too — he now sings the songs he learned at FLO at home all by himself!”

• Colleen and Carlene recognize the importance of empowering parents and caregivers to invest in their own learning. Their work is grounded in the understanding that parents are a child’s first teacher.

Colleen says: “A parent who is on their own journey of learning, is modelling that learning is a lifelong skill that sets the stage for many wonderful opportunities.”

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Parents are also active teachers in programs like StrongStart, Mother Goose and other Early Learning play opportunities. They are teaching and modelling important skills like sharing, teamwork, and play.

For more information about family literacy and early years programs, contact Carlene at 250-338-5396 or visit the website at www.sd71.bc.ca.

Or contact the Comox Valley Lifelong Learning Association at 250-897-2623 or visit their website at www.cvliteracy.ca.

— Comox Valley Lifelong Learning Association