Benefits of Family Literacy

While researching this blog, it became apparent how prevalent family literacy was in my childhood. When I was an infant my parents sat with me for hours reading book after book. As I grew older, they were more than happy to accommodate my thirst for new material and gave me their favorite novels from when they were young. My dad supplied me with the series Dragonriders of Pern and The Belgariad, while my mom gave me her collection of Little House on the Prairie novels. This created a sense of community literacy in my home, where conversation about literature was welcome. Additionally, they introduced me to new authors outside of school. At home, I read illustrated versions of Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edgar Allan Poe poems. The family literacy I had at home manifested in high CRCT and Lexile test scores in reading and writing and better attention to detail in my other courses.

What is Family Literacy?

Family literacy is a type of literacy education that emphasizes bringing reading and writing into the home and making it a family activity, irrespective of different literacy levels. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, children with a “richer home literacy environment displayed higher levels of reading knowledge and skills than did their counterparts with less rich home literacy environments.” Family literacy is imperative in creating a foundation for children’s learning experiences. Family literacy is not solely limited to literature. It also incorporates various mediums like puppet shows, finger painting, and show and tells to accommodate different learning styles. A crucial aspect of family literacy is that an emphasis is placed on storytelling and is inclusive of children of all ages.

The picture shows two boys sitting at a kitchen table with computers and reading materials.

A type of family literacy is called environmental literacy, where learning and storytelling are derived from a person’s surroundings. Examples of creative mediums of literacy are reading aloud signs at the grocery store or reading numbers and letters on license plates. Family literacy is also grown through teaching moments between older kids and young ones. The older kids learn more because they have to teach the concepts of reading to the younger ones. By successfully teaching their younger counterpart, the older kids become more confident in the material and the younger kids have expanded their literacy. According to expert Lucia Palacios, here are some easy starting points for evolving family literacy in your own home.

  • Use everyday activities to help kids learn
  • Make the library a regular family destination
  • Encourage older kids to share books
  • Provide props and materials for dramatic play

Public library reading programs practice family engagement to promote family literacy. Family engagement is “a shared responsibility among families, educators, and communities to support children’s learning and development.” For public libraries, family engagement is a natural next step in supporting children’s learning and development. According to a Kent State University study, the children who participate in public library reading programs and practice family literacy experience benefits ranging from frequent school attendance, oral language development, and comprehension improvement. Overall, family literacy is a holistic approach to childhood development of literacy skills that is taught outside the classroom. It is more than reading books, it is teaching children an entirely new way to think about literature.

How do you encourage family literacy at home? Interested in more great content? Follow UNG Press on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.

About EFSTAC1876

Emily Stachelczyk is an intern with the UNG Press for the fall 2020 semester. She is a senior at the UNG Dahlonega campus, set to graduate in December 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in English with a Literature focus and a double minor in History and the Spanish Language.

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5 Comments on “Benefits of Family Literacy”

  1. Family literacy is crucial in the development of students. I also grew up in a home immersed in literacy practices. Throughout my studies I have also had time to consider the impact my grandparents had on my parents’ literacy practices as well, which continue to affect how they consume textual materials. My mom is more apt to read magazines or follow trends on the internet, while my dad is more likely to read books, listen to podcasts, or to current events on NPR while driving home.
    I was, and continue to be, surrounded by books. I always have had my own personal library that has grown throughout the years. I have ensured that my children both have the same. My mother made sure that we participated in summer reading programs at our local library. Hopefully once this global pandemic goes away, we will be able to begin enjoying such affordances again. We also keep a family calendar, a dry erase board with weekly meal ideas, and sticky notes and pens can be found readily for quick notes as reminders or to other members within the house. Even as I type, my children come to look to see what mommy is doing; my seven-year-old daughter commenting, “Wow, mom, that’s a lot of words! Are you writing a book?” The literacy practices of life are certainly present within my home.
    As a teacher, my awareness of literacy practices at school, and within the home (for my students) has continued to grow over my decade of teaching. I have worked on creating a classroom library that has leveled readers, but also has books which students are interested in. This year, thanks to my graduate studies, I implemented a reading interest survey, which allowed me to see what I needed to add to my library. I was shocked at how many of my students wanted to read non-fiction. I had made the incorrect assumption that students only want to read fiction! One Donor’s Choose project later, we had a brand-new leveled set of books to use in guided reading, conferring times, and our independent reading time (also known as GRAB-go read a book!).
    Only in recent years have I become more interested in discovering family literacy practices and igniting change for more shared literacy experiences in the home. At the beginning of the year, I send home parent surveys to discover more about student interests and academic activities in the home with questions such as: What is your child interested in? Do you have books at home? How often do you read with your child at home? Does your child like to learn? What would you like me to work with your child on the most?
    These questions offer a lot of insight from the parents’ perspectives, and remind me of the “pause and ponder” caption located in an article I recently read by Amy Suzanne Johnson (2010), “What resources do your students carry with them to school each day in their metaphorical backpacks? What steps can you take to supplement your understandings of how your students use literacy within their families? How can you deepen your insights into the family cultures of your students?”
    Then, during our initial conferences near the end of the first quarter, I offer helpful suggestions and resources to use at home to further help build their child’s involvement in literacy practices. Sometimes the suggestion is daily journaling, while other times it might be word family work, but my greatest push is for family reading time. I have even told parents I would rather them read than do homework! A similar sentiment I have heard many teachers share: “Read to your child!” (Rowe & Gilliam Fain, 2013). Throughout the year, I encourage parents to switch from reading to their child, and instead have their child read to them. Students are then encouraged to come back to school and read me what they have already comfortably struggled through with their parents. Students with parents who genuinely care and make effort have seen tremendous success because of the emphasized importance being place on literacy practices. Many parents are also awakened to the weight in which their practices reflect in their child. Working in a title I, 100% free and reduced lunch school, many parents realize the value of education, but not how to go about being an additional facilitator in their child’s education. It is such a humbling triumph to see the empowerment that can come about from such awareness and change! This intergenerational approach of involving families (parents, grandparents, caregivers, etc.), allows me as an educator to “widen their {my} lenses from the child’s immediate biography to how that biography is situated within a family of culture of practice.” (Johnson, 2010).
    With ever-increasing access to e-books, a new venue has been provided for parents who do not have ready access to print in the home; another problem compounded by the covid-19 shut-down and lack of access to local libraries. I have used EPIC! Books for several years, and just this year, our school has invested in RAZ kids. I allow students to use whichever platform they enjoy the most. Some students love the challenge of RAZ kids, while I have found my ELL populati). on likes the option to read books in their native language on EPIC! In doing so in the home environment, their parents also feel supported and included in their child’s education, which plays a key factor in their child’s journey of bilingualism (Query, et al. 2011). Students are not only reading, but also learning how to navigate digital mediums as digital natives. This is crucial since “Literacy, which is much more inclusive than the ability to read, has become a vital skill as global society becomes increasingly dependent on rapid technological advances.” (Thomason 2008). Literacy also “continues to be recognized as the gateway for improved economic conditions and educational advantages.” (Neuman and Dickinson 2001).

    Johnson, A.S. (2010). “The Jones Family’s Culture of Literacy”. The Reading Teacher, 64(1), pp.33-44. Doi: 10.1598/RT.64.1.4
    Thomason, G.B. (2008). The impact of the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy on the literacy environment. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from Liberty University Digital Commons Website:
    Neuman, S.B., & Dickinson, D. K. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of early literacy research. New York: Guilford Press Publications.
    Robinson Query, R., Ceglowski, D., & Clark, P. (2011). “Hispanic Families’ Perspectives on Using a Bilingual Vocabulary Kit to Enhance Their Prekindergarten Children’s Vocabulary Development”. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 13(2). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Education, Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative.
    Rowe, D., & Gilliam Fain, J. (2013). “The family backpack project: responding to dual-language texts through family journals”. Language Arts, 90(6), pp.402-416.

  2. I like that this article extends the meaning, or clarifies, that family literacy is more than reading books with a student at home. It explains that family literacy includes many practices that benefit the student’s overall linguistic growth. Puppet shows, finger painting, show and tell, and storytelling from environmental print are all suggestions of ways to incorporate family literacy at home. Reading this article reminds me of the literacy night we have at my school. This is an annual event where each grade level comes up with a literacy activity or strategy to model so that parents can engage their children with these activities at home. Many parents often comment of how they would have never known if no one showed them how to do these things. We have shown parents everything from making their read aloud more interactive to activities students can engage in after reading time. To help students develop skills needed to be successful in school, schools and families will need to continue to work together to provide students with a solid learning foundation.

  3. I loved reading about your experiences growing up surrounded by a rich literacy environment. It made me consider my own experience close up. I realize that I took a literacy environment for granted in my own life. Looking back I see how my mom loved to read and instilled in me and my sisters a love of reading. We were a regular middle class family and were not able to purchase a lot of books, but my mom always made it a point, as long as I can remember, to make sure we were a part of the local library’s reading program every summer. Thank you for acknowledging the importance of this program. I remember always seeing her read and she encouraged us all to read books and to act out stories. Although I do not remember her reading to me at a young age, I do remember her love of and encouragement of reading. I made it a priority to read to my children at a young age and to let them know how important but also fun it is to get to experience whole new worlds in a good book. As I was reading The Jones Family’s Culture of Literacy, (Johnson, The Reading Teacher 2010) I found the importance of more than just seeing or having a family that encourages reading. The ladies in this family made it a priority to include literature in all parts of their lives, as you named it in your blog, environmental literacy. The culture of literacy was exemplified by letter writing, reading for work, religious avenues, connecting to the community through reading newspapers, managing a household, self-care, and last but certainly not least, education to name a few. Reading this article made me reflect on my own priorities at home with my family’s environmental literacy. I would also like to think that sharing this information with student’s families, that sometimes think they are not doing enough, would help them realize that they do have many opportunities for sharing and encouraging literacy in their homes without just “reading a book”. Literacy is so important to education and if families share in literacy practices and instill its importance, it will help students in their academic and future careers. Thank you for sharing ways that literacy is a part of everyday lives.

  4. I was blessed to grow up in a home where literacy was valued. My mom began working with me at a very young age, teaching me the letters of the alphabet and making dots for me to trace so I could learn to write my name. She read to me and sang nursery rhymes with me. When it was time to enter school, I was ready! Amazing teachers plus mom’s prep work equaled me learning to read at an early age. Once I started reading, I couldn’t be stopped. I always had a book in my hand. Fast forward to today and it’s safe to say that reading and teaching children to read are two of my biggest passions!
    I’ve taken some of those early practices into my own classroom and have built upon them. To this day, I will make dots for students who are learning to write. I utilize songs and movement to get the students actively involved in and interested in learning. I like that the article has given us examples of what extending literacy beyond the book could look like. As the author stated, literacy is about way more than reading a book. Reading this article, along with Pauline Davey Zeece’s article Books and Good Stuff, has inspired me to move literacy beyond the classroom, to seek out ways to build a bridge between school and home so that parents are involved in their child’s literacy development. I recently implemented a mini-version of this concept with my Kindergarten class. Students are given a picture to color each morning. Beneath the picture is a paragraph that relates to the picture. (This activity is differentiated to meet the varying needs of students.) As students finish breakfast each morning, they come to my desk and read their paragraph to me. I highlight any words they miss and we review them. The passage then goes home for them to read to their parents and review words they are having difficulty with. On Fridays, students are given a paragraph without pictures to read to me and I grade their accuracy. This little task has provided much excitement for the students and the parents! I was shocked at the involvement level of the parents. They are looking for those papers to come home each day so they can sit down with their child and read. The students are quick to put their paper in their folder after they read to me so they can make sure it goes home with them. I can only imagine how much more successful a full blown family literacy project could be! Zeece had some amazing suggestions for creating family literacy bags. So did Deborah Rowe and Jeanne Gilliam Fain. Rowe and Fain use backpacks to provide cross cultural texts for students and parents to use to promote reading literacy. They actually had books translated into the native language of the parents if that language was not English. I cannot wait to implement some of these ideas into my own family literacy project that I can use with my developing readers!

  5. Thanks for sharing with us! These sound like creative ways to improve children’s engagement with reading. At the end of the year, perhaps they can be collected into one book to share with future students too.

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