Family Literacy Feature: Growing Child, Growing Parent at LEARN

Amanda Giang (she/her), Advanced Education

1 2 26 March 2018


In this week’s “Strengthening Family Literacy” feature blog, Deborah Forbes shares about the Family Literacy program at LEARN in Medicine Hat. We asked her to answer a few questions about their program, how it works, and how they know it is making a difference. Deborah is the Executive Director at LEARN.

Describe your Family Literacy program.

We have an innovative program that we run in Medicine Hat called Growing Child, Growing Parent. This program is based upon three different Family Literacy models; Literacy and Parenting Skills (LAPS), Rhymes that Bind (RTB), and Books Offer Our Children Success (BOOKS). We use the LAPS curriculum for our lesson plans but we also use other resources such as community partners, guest speakers and research from various sources.

Our program runs for 2.5 hours once a week for 12 weeks. When families first come to the program they are all together in a large circle. We then run a short Rhymes that Bind program with parents and children together. We focus on oral language, and basic numeracy skills as we teach parents and children together, rhymes and songs. We are also focusing on parent child interaction and helping the parents to connect to their children. We want them to feel successful as parents and teachers of their children.

We then separate the parents and the children. The children have their own program that is based upon the developmental levels and needs of each of the children. The parents go into a separate room where we sit in a circle. We begin with journaling; the parents are encouraged to write (in whatever language they want) or draw for 5 minutes. This gives them an opportunity to practice writing skills as well as to give them a safe place to ‘get out’ what they need to. Each learner is also given a binder to keep their journal and other papers in as we have handouts and talking tools that we give to the families each week. At the end of the program they get to take their binder home along with the gift of a children’s book. We then have a lesson planned on a variety of topics or based upon a BOOKS box set. We have many foundational life skills such as self-esteem building, conflict resolution, problem-solving skills, mental health, discipline strategies, and community resources. In each of the lesson plans we use a multitude of teaching strategies such as large group work, small group work, reading and writing activities. As in all of our groups the participants have the right to pass. We only take registration once at the beginning of the group; this way we have found that the participants really bond and connect with one another and often will get together outside of the group that they organize among themselves. Trust is built as we go, so keeping the group as a unit is essential to success.

Once the parent part of the day’s program has been completed, the parents get a small break (they sometimes need it as the topics can bring up strong emotions). The parents then come back to their children; we have a family style lunch together. We also provide transportation to and from the program, as we have a partnership with a local cab company for those families who do not have transportation.

Why did you choose to base your Family Literacy program on these Family Literacy models?

We chose these models as they seemed to best fit the needs of the learners in our community. We wanted to have a program that met the needs of the adult learners’ literacy and foundational skills as well as helping them to connect to their children. The learners who come to our program come from a wide range of backgrounds. Many of the parents who come to our program have literacy challenges even if they have graduated high school. They also have a range of other challenges such as financial, self-esteem, mental health, addictions, single parenting, and learning disabilities. We feel that the LAPS program is flexible enough to not only help them to work on their literacy challenges but also to work on their foundational life skills.

Outside Growing Child Growing Parent in the other programs we offer, we look at the people we are trying to serve and customize a program around the groups’ needs. We use Design Thinking to always begin with the question “whom are you trying to help, assist, aid or engage?” Design Thinking is an empathy-based process. We sometimes start with a partner or several partners and sometimes we search out partners that will improve a program or know a particular group of possible participants.

How does your Family Literacy program identify adult foundational learner needs and support them to build those foundational skills?

In order to get participants for our Growing Child Growing Parent program we partner with local agencies who are already working with these families. For instance, one of our partners is a local home visitation program who only works with high needs families. These families have already been identified as having barriers. During registration and ongoing through out the program we talk about goal setting and what the participants are wanting to get out of our program. We then revisit this on a weekly basis with each participant.

For our Family Literacy programs in general, as mentioned in the previous response, we get to know as many community partners as we can and through them, analyze adult foundational learner needs for particular groups of potential participants. We are very clear that although we work with families, (particularly, in the past, with families with children 0 – 6 years old) it is the adults with foundational learning needs that are our participants.

How does your organization help Family Literacy learners transition to further learning?

One of the things that we do within each of our program days is to connect participants with other community services. We always have posters or flyers of programs/activities that are offered by other agencies in our community. We also bring in guest speakers from partner organizations to talk to our learners about further learning opportunities that can help them meet their goals. For example, we always have a representative from ABLE who is the other CALP in Medicine Hat and they deal only in Adult Foundational Learning. We also connect program participants to the Medicine Hat College, which is our CCI. Further, we bring in a local employment organization as it also offers programs and further learning that help them to meet their employment goals. At times we look at the individual needs of our learners and then work to find someone to connect them to in order to meet those needs. At the end of the 12 weeks of Growing Child Growing Parent, we then invite the learners who are still wanting more, to attend other LEARN programs; the majority of the learners want to attend more Family Literacy programs.

In all of our current programs, we have begun to work very closely with ABLE at Medicine Hat College. ABLE offers classes that focus on basic reading, writing, math and computers. All classes are offered up to and including a Grade 9 level. There are then classes that continue into high school courses through the Academic Upgrading/College Preparation program. We either partner directly with ABLE to deliver aspects of LEARN offerings, or we have ABLE come as a guest speaker to inform LEARN participants about possible next steps. We also partner with Being Human Services which is a local employment scaffolding agency. They talk to all of our participants about the services that they provide. We also refer our participants to their programs based upon their employment goals.

How do you know that Family Literacy has been effective in achieving LFL outcomes?

LEARN has developed a facilitator checklist and it is used at every program. This checklist is based directly from the CALP Logic Model and the learning outcomes identified on it. Any time that we see a participant has met one of the outcomes we mark it down. We also have each facilitator write an anecdotal report after every program in order to keep track of LFL outcomes. Each facilitator is also given training in the Outcomes and the Logic Model so that they understand how to evaluate the participants. Lastly, at the end of the program we have the parents fill out evaluations. My favorite comment is when one learner stated: “Your program has helped me to build the confidence to open up a book and read to my son.”

In addition to the outcomes survey, and anecdotal reports from facilitators, next year we are preparing to use a very simple pre and post measure so that we can begin to measure growth of participants. Many of our participants will register in further LEARN programming or go on to other programs that we have highlighted for them.

Deborah Forbes
Executive Director, LEARN


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