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Getting Parents Involved in Children's Literacy

Parents are the first influencers of their child's reading development, and they can help foster verbal and math literacy even if their own school experiences weren't ideal. Local family literacy programs are available in most communities, from formal federal programs like the Federal Even Start Family Literacy Program to independent centers created by local educators and activists that aid parents in helping their children with reading and literacy -- even if they struggle with reading themselves.

Families participating in literacy programs are ethnically and culturally diverse, and speak a variety of languages. In many urban areas, these parents may be very young and poor and have other personal challenges. By involving the parents in design, implementation and evaluation, reading program developers are able to tailor their programs to local needs. This collaboration with parents helps them feel included and supported, and it contributes to the success of their literacy development efforts.

Building Life Skills With Literacy

Studies have shown that children who read and write at home with their parents "may build not only their academic literacy skills, but also other important life and learning skills." A recent New York Times article discussed the results of a study published in the Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation:

When we talk about those early literacy skills, from vocabulary to book handling to dialogic reading, we are talking about critical brain development, about so much learning that can happen when all the pieces are in place before children get to school: a caring adult who is not laid low by other problems, not too distracted to pay attention, a household sufficiently organized to allow for routines, a "print-rich" environment in which there are appealing books available, suited to the child's age, and a pattern established early of reading together for pleasure. And all of this continues to matter as children go to school and learn to read, and continue reading and writing activities in the home with parents.

How Teachers Can Help Parents

Communication with parents is sometimes a challenge, given that many parents are working and have other children and responsibilities to manage. They may be single parents struggling to stay on top of things without any help. Teachers who can make themselves available to parents via phone, text, email, school message boards and after-hours conference times increase their chances of opening a dialogue and establishing trust.

Providing reading material for parents who may not have access to age-appropriate resources is helpful, as is introducing parents to community programs, online resources and other support.

One teacher explains how she works with parents to help them learn about literacy. "To empower my students' parents I have developed and taught parent literacy classes for the past five years. I've done everything from a one-night games workshop to a five-week class on literacy." The resources she lists include downloadable guides teachers can share with parents about phonics, discussion questions, tips for creating a reading environment, writing activities and more.

Providing learning resources, support, feedback and open communication with parents can help improve the chances that they will be successful in fostering literacy at home.

Learn more about UTA's online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction -- Literacy Studies program.


Sources:

The New York Times: Literacy Builds Life Skills as Well as Language Skills

Reading Rockets: Family Literacy Programs

Scholastic: Partnering With Parents: Literacy Activities and Resources

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