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.

View all posts by EFSTAC1876 →

14 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.

  6. I agree that family literacy is essential for children to maximize their reading potential. If children are not introduced to a myriad of reading experiences in the home, then they miss out on so many opportunities to read different types of texts. As a teacher, I try to incorporate various text types in my classroom, but parents and caregivers have the wonderful opportunity to extend that learning beyond school. Going to the grocery store and finding text in unexpected places like the aisle signs and even vegetable can labels and cereal boxes can be so beneficial to children. Frequently parents ask me what they can do to help their students at home and I always tell them to read with their children and then ask questions about the text. To add in some fun, I recommend my student read the book to their parents and then make up questions to quiz the parents on the book. Having that special time with a parent is invaluable to a child and not only does it ignite the spark to want to read, but it strengthens the bond between them. There is nothing like opening a book and savoring the slice of time together in such a busy world.
    I wholeheartedly believe that parents are an essential part of their children’s literacy. Even though they may not be able to afford books, newspapers, or magazines, they can still help their children on their journey of literacy. I think that a parent taking their child to the local library and allowing them to check out books of their choice and then reading the books together is one of the most important ways that they can boost their child’s love of reading. My hometown library participates in Reading is Fundamental and there are many families that come and have someone read to their child and then afterwards get to take that book home. During the year library representatives will also go out to various sites within the community to bring books to those without transportation so that more families may have access to books. Libraries offer so many opportunities for family literacy for those who wouldn’t ordinarily have the means and it is a wonderful resource that never gets enough credit. Literacy should be attainable for everyone, not just the ones who can afford it, so equitable access must be guaranteed.

  7. I found this article to be very informative and interesting due to a number of reasons. First, I was able to connect with so many of the scenarios listed in the article. I have so many fond memories of long road trips to visit out of town family, and to pass the time we would play a license plate game, or a billboard game. As a child, I thought these were merely just little games that my parents had made up to keep from asking the infamous “Are we there yet?” question. I also remember helping my mom write her grocery list and reading labels for her at the grocery store. For years I found these tasks tedious, because why couldn’t she read the labels herself. After reading this article, I am making the connection that it was actually so much more than that. As a struggling reader, my mom was trying to get me involved in reading anyway she could, even if it meant she had to play an ABC car game with me for four hours straight.
    After reading this article, I am now rethinking my own family literacy techniques. Here I thought that having a literature rich home just involved reading bedtime stories and maybe discussing them some. Yes, this does have its benefits, but I believe this article pointed out more ways that I could easily incorporate more literature rich activities into the daily lives of my girls. With the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, I have forgotten about all of the free programs offered at the library for kids. What an experience that would be to get to go and create something that related to a book you just read. With smartphone technology, I’ve almost completely illuminated the need for handwritten notes, but after reading this article, I think it is time to bring them back. It’s these day-to-day tasks that you don’t think of as being rich in literacy experiences, that actually are and can create a culture of reading and sharing at home. Thank you so much for bringing such examples to light!

  8. Thank you for your article! I enjoyed reading about your experiences growing up reading with your parents. You were so fortunate to have parents who understood the importance of engaging you in literacy and knew how to execute it. Your parents understood the value of raising a reader. Kudos to them!
    Even though I am a Literacy Lover, I must confess I do not read with my two youngest boys as often as I should. My thirteen-year-old son has already fostered a deep love for reading and writing. As stated in your article, family literacy manifests into high test scores. My son is a testament to that. He is in the Gifted program and is in STEM Academy at his middle school. My four-year-old will bring a book to me and ask me to read with him. I love it. It is the cutest thing to watch him “read” the pages with confidence 😊
    When I taught Head Start, Kindergarten, and First Grade, I overstated to parents the importance of engaging with their children in literacy. I would explain how they could best engage with their child and how they are their child’s first teacher. I wanted parents to know that teaching their baby did not have to be as structured as a school day! I made it clear it could be something as simple as making intentional notice of restaurant and store signs or reading the words on their scholar’s clothing. I also encouraged parents to engage in conversation with their scholars because it helps with language acquisition and builds confidence. I shared with my parents that extending the conversations and their responses to their scholars will enrich and expand their language and literacy. You want children to have an active role while conversing with adults. As adults, we should ask questions to prompt children to think deeper about the topic at hand. I also advised that asking their scholars to talk about their experiences throughout the school day is a great way to initiate these responsive dialogues.
    Thank you for this article and for sharing your experiences!

  9. As a child, I can remember literacy being very important in my household. My mama was in school to become an RN, and she would sit for hours reading her textbooks and writing notes. I can remember watching her and going to sit beside her with my books, crayons, and paper in hand. When she would read, I would “read”. When she would write, I would “write”. At the time, I didn’t know how to read or write, but I copied everything she did. My daddy spent his free time reading the newspaper and books. Both of my parents made lists for things that we needed from the store, and they would let me check the items off the list as they got them. My parents also took me to the public library often. I know that this is where my love for reading, and learning came from because I had these experiences at such a young age. As an adult with a child of my own now, I have made literacy an important part of my daughter’s life as well. I have read books to her since she was a baby, recited nursery rhymes with her, made lists with her as well, and I take her to the public library as often as I can. I was always high achieving in school and my daughter is as well. I believe that an early love for literacy and reading is the main contributor. I like how the blog pointed out all these important aspects of early literacy. As a Pre-K teacher, I can see the benefits in the classroom as well. Students who come to school with knowledge of books, print, and writing have had these foundational skills started at home before entering Pre-K. Students who have not had these experiences, often lacked interest, and had no knowledge of books, print, or writing. My goal as a Pre-K teacher is to show students how much fun literacy can be and instill the love of literacy in them. I believe that this will help them be successful in their school career and on into their adult lives. I love how the blog pointed out that literacy is not limited to literature but is extended into things like puppet shows. I try to promote literacy for my child and students in as many ways as possible.

  10. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I enjoyed reading your blog about family literacy. I am a first grade teacher and reading is what I do majority of my day. I incorporate reading into every subject I teach and incorporate fun reading activities to encourage students to love to read. I always stress to the parents of my students that they are their child’s first teacher. It is important for the child to learn at home and at school. Our child watch and learn from us parents daily, whether it is good or bad. I had a wonderful mother who instilled a love of reading in me from infancy. She read to me and encouraged me to read as much as I can. One factor that affects children’s love for reading is that their parents do not read at home. This indirectly tells our children that reading is not important and does not encourage them to want to read. Children that have been read to during their young years also have a richer vocabulary than children who were not read to. This directly affects their educational performance. I loved how you mentioned that family literacy does not just include reading books. It can include playing reading games verbally going down the road, reading signs in the grocery store or recognizing that symbols stand for words. Ever since my oldest child learned to read we have been playing literacy games in the car as we go places. They love playing the ABC game which is very much like scattergories. In this game we have a topic and we have to take turns naming something that starts with that letter in that category. We also practice rhyming words, spelling words, and making sentences and stories. This had a direct impact on my child who is currently in kindergarten. She is already reading on a first grade level, comprehending and writing stories on her own. She was exposed to reading from birth and she was around both older siblings as they learned to read. I loved reading this blog and I cannot wait to share this with parents when we discuss family literacy.

  11. As an educator, I completely understand the importance of family literacy in a young child’s life. I was raised with a mother that read to us all the time and I realize that it aided me greatly throughout my life. I have also seen the effects in my students when they are raised in a family that is engaging them in a variety of different literacy habits. Myself and those students are blessed in a way that others are not always afforded.
    This is why “teachers and researchers must also consider the histories,configurations, and ways of viewing the world embedded within families”(Johnson,2010, p.33). All young people do not come from a family that prioritizes literacy highly. Parents are busy with jobs that require them to work long hours at odd times of the day. They do not have the time or the patience to spend with their children practicing any form of literacy. Younger children often spend time alone with older children, but they do not spend it in a literacy rich environment. Screen time is a large amount of the recreational time in their lives.
    Reality for a lot of students is not what teachers would ideally want it to be, and that makes our job much more difficult. That is something that we have to be aware of as we strive to help young children. We have to introduce literacy events into their lives to motivate them to bring the experience home. We have to teach these students to be the catalyst for change in their home life by giving them resources to share with parents and siblings. This is our job as educators for the young people of families that do not have the benefit of family literacy. In this way we can spread the passion for literacy that many of us have.

    Reference: Johnson, A.(2010) The Jones Family’s Culture of Literacy. The Reading Teacher. 64(1), 33-41

  12. Until I became a teacher, I always took for granted how prevalent literacy was for me in my childhood. We had many books, my dad was always reading, and my brother would take me to the library. Reading was just something one did. This is something that I have carried on with my own children. We have more books than we know what to do with, and at any given moment there is at least one of the five people in our house reading, telling stories, acting out stories during play, or engaged in some kind of literacy activity. It never occurred to me that this isn’t the norm. I thought everyone’s home was just as alive with literacy as my own. As an early childhood educator, I now realize how many families do not understand the influence they have over their child’s literacy development and how important it is to engage in literacy activities. I like that this blog post emphasizes that it’s not just reading that needs to be part of a family’s literacy practice but telling stories and learning to speak and listen. These skills along with reading and writing are important literacy skills that young children need to be introduced to. I have realized that many parents do not know how to foster these skills, but, once they are shown, they are more than willing to begin the process of cultivating their children’s literacy. At the beginning of every school year at our open house event, I try to spend time talking with the parents about the importance of literacy and how they can encourage it at home. It’s important to read to their children everyday (long after they can read for themselves), and to talk about what is being read. However, what many parents don’t realize is that they can have their children help them with simple, everyday activities they already do to help foster literacy development. For example, parents can point out and read the store signs as they pass by them in the car. They can let their child help write a grocery list, give them part of the list in the store to see if they can find the needed items, encourage them to stay quiet so they can listen to all the different sounds around them, and sing songs together. These are not only activities that children enjoy, but also very beneficial to their literacy development.

  13. As I began reading this post, I immediately thought back to my own childhood. I grew up with a mom who was a teacher, and at that she was a teacher who loved to read, loved books, and loved children’s books. I was incredibly fortunate to have her read to me daily, introduce me to new books, and introduce me to the classics. I vividly remember reading her favorite books from her childhood: The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, and so many more. This inspired my love of reading at such a young age. Others are not nearly this fortunate and that drastically effects their literacy development.
    As I think to my experiences that I’ve had as a teacher, specifically when I was a kindergarten teacher, I have always strived to have the families in my class understand how important it is for families to read together. When I’ve spoken to families about this, it never fails that I will have some families tell me they simply do not have the means to get their children books and they don’t know what to do. Luckily, my school has an amazing family resource supply that can send books home with students to keep, but they are limited in the books that can be given out. I encourage families to get memberships to our local library where the books are free, we talk about how much it helps these students in the long run. We also talk about how literacy can include story telling. This is another thing that I remember from my own childhood and once again I don’t take for granted how fortunate I was. I loved stories of all kinds, whether they were books, songs, movies, or made-up stories. I’d ask my mom to tell me stories on nights I couldn’t sleep. I can still remember her laying next to me and telling me all kinds of make-believe stories. This helped me greatly as I got to school, not only in my reading, but in my writing. I was able to come up with ideas and have an imagination that would simply run wild.

  14. I loved reading your post! I really appreciated your home literacy experiences, and I thought it was very interesting to read the choices of books that your parents shared with you. I had never heard of the books that you said your dad recommended, so I will have to check those out. You are continuing his work by sharing them yourself. As I was reading your post, I was thinking about my own experiences. I am a first grade teacher, and I teach in a school that is extremely high poverty, and we have a large percentage of ELL’s as well. It is so obvious at our school which families share literacy in their homes and which ones do not. Even if they don’t read in English, it makes a difference in the amount of knowledge that the child possesses. I don’t think that a lot of our population understands that importance, despite our continual attempt to share that information with them. We have to work very hard on phonemic awareness at the first-grade level because so many of them just do not have it.
    It also brought to mind something that my mother shared with me long ago. She talked about the three mothers and the eggplant. The first child notices the eggplant. He asks his mom what it is. She tells him that she doesn’t know, and she doesn’t have time. The next child asks his mom what it is. She tells him that it is eggplant and nothing else. The third child asks. The mom says, “That’s an eggplant. It’s purple. It’s a vegetable. Let’s buy one and take it home. We will cook it.” And that is the difference. It seems like such a small thing, but it makes a tremendous difference in the life of a child.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *