Why Family Literacy Programs?

Why Family Literacy Programs?

Tanis Harms, Community Learning Network

0 1 10 January 2023

It’s a new year with new possibilities! Perhaps your organization is considering starting or expanding your programming to include family literacy programs. How, you may ask, do family literacy programs contribute towards the Community Adult Learning Program’s (CALP) vision of “Changing lives through adult foundational learning in connected communities” (CALP Logic Model)? And why might your organization consider running these programs? Let’s explore together…

“Changing lives…” Whose lives are changed and how?

Family literacy programs impact all members of the family! Both children and adults benefit through attending family literacy programs and then applying literacy practices learned from the programs in their home. Here’s a great visual of stats from ABC Life Literacy Canada, supporting how lives are changed as a result of family literacy.

Image source: https://abclifeliteracy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/ABC-Family-Literacy_2021-1-scaled.jpg 

If these stats don’t peak your interest, Kent State University (Family Literacy Programs: Who Benefits?) reviewed multiple research sources and summarized the benefits of family literacy programs for children, parents, adults, and communities. Here are just a few highlights of the benefits mentioned.

How Parents/Adults Benefit

  • Parents persist in family literacy programs longer than in other types of adult literacy programs. Those who persist have more opportunity to learn.
  • Parents’ attitudes about education improve; the value they perceive in education increases.
  • Parents’ reading achievement increases. This finding, which is one of the most persistent in the research, also applies to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) parents.
  • Parents’ writing ability improves.
  • Parents’ social awareness and self-advocacy increases.
  • Parents enhance their employment status or job satisfaction. Several large-scale studies, including the national Even Start evaluation, have shown this to be the case.

How Families Benefit

  • Families learn to value education. This finding has emerged from studies of children, parents, and families.
  • Families become more involved in schools.
  • Families become emotionally closer, which creates a more supportive home environment.
  • Families read more and engage in more literate behaviors at home.

 Wow! These are some incredible benefits, which line up with the CALP Logic Model Ultimate Outcome 1 which states, “Adult learners persist in learning foundational skills that they use in their everyday lives.” Other benefits (for the parents/adults) also mentioned that involvement in family literacy programs increased reading and writing abilities which leads us to the next question…

What "adult foundational learning" takes place in family literacy programs?


The short answer to this, is, whatever the adult foundational learner has come to learn! Family literacy programs are great learning opportunities that are welcoming and safe, and therefore provide an excellent environment for learners to build relationships with CALP staff. As trust is built, dreams, challenges, and more is often shared. As CALP staff get to know those who are attending their group, they can be responsive to learners' learning goals as well as in how to design the program to meet the needs of the family members attending. Therefore, family literacy programs easily align with the CALP Logic Model’s Ultimate Outcome 2 which states, “Adult learners have access to relevant and engaging learning opportunities.”

Sometimes a parent may originally come to a program for the benefit of their child; other times they are aware of their own learning needs but may have barriers like childcare that get in the way of their learning. Family literacy programs address these and other barriers in ways that work well for the whole family. Whatever the adults want to learn, family literacy programs can either provide the instruction, or connect the adult to other learning opportunities within their CALP (e.g. tutoring) or with other community partners to meet their needs. This leads us to our last question…

How do family literacy programs foster "connected communities"?

[untitled]Adult learners benefit from CALPs that are well-connected in their communities” (CALP Logic Model, Ultimate Outcome 3). Family literacy programs provide many opportunities to connect with other community organizations and members. Whether it’s through special guests coming into the programs; resources/information available from other organizations; “field trips” to community locations; or partnering directly with partners in order to meet the needs of the program like providing facilities, staffing or snacks...connections happen!

Community partners focused on other mandated areas can still benefit from family literacy programs running. Society as a whole, in fact, benefits from family literacy programs because “parents persist in family literacy programs, and persistence leads to literacy achievement, which in turn can influence broader economic and social issues.”

In particular, family literacy programs positively affect (or have the potential to affect) several major social problems:

And if these aspects describing the value of family literacy programs have not yet convinced you on why your organization should offer them...family literacy programs are also just plain old fun for all involved!!!

What have been your best experiences with family literacy programs, or the benefits you have seen? Please share below!


Learn More

Perhaps your organization is interested in beginning or expanding your family literacy programming but don’t know where to start? Here are some resources to help you out.

CLN Trainings and Resources to support family literacy programming:

Other resources to support family literacy programming:


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