Voices from the Field: CALP Family Literacy Program Practitioners
Tanis Harms, Community Learning Network
Every year on January 27, ABC Life Literacy Canada hosts Family Literacy Day, the largest national family literacy event in Canada. This year, the theme is: Let’s have a family party! To find out more, please see the ABC Life Literacy Canada website.
In preparation for this celebration, I thought it would be great to “tour” our province and get a glimpse of the CALP-funded family literacy programs that are being offered. I asked a few practitioners from different regions to share about their programs, and here is what they said…
The greatest benefits of offering family literacy programming is meeting with families to do our Building Blocks program. We meet them in their homes, which eliminates many barriers for families. We offer strategies that build on their strengths by seeing games, books, activities they may already have in their homes and suggesting new fun ways they might be able to use them to build literacy skills together as a family. This helps build their confidence and show that the strategies are fun and don't have to cost a lot of money.
We have seen adult foundational learners improve their own foundational learning skills through our programs by being motivated to help increase their child's skills. They engage with activities like singing, reading, cooking and crafts to engage with their child, while also improving their skills by reading words, following steps and directions, and learning new vocabulary and basic math in the activities. Doing the activities as a family helps to build the adult's confidence and motivation to provide opportunities for their children.
- Nicole Levesque, Literacy for Life Foundation
We find that family literacy programs are a great way to meet new learners and really get to know them and their goals for their future. The programs help families feel connected to each other and the community to gain the support they need.
Many of our Family Learning programs are offered for English Language Learning families. We see them grow by leaps and bounds in our programs and then come back and take new learners under their wing, offering to give rides, watch their children and plan for activities outside of our groups. There is so much encouragement within these groups, including sharing of stories which helps build learners confidence to try new things. We see English Language Learning flourish for our newcomers to Canada. As well, we see our Canadian born families gaining the confidence to start asking about other learning opportunities not only for their children, but for themselves too.
We provide Family Literacy programming under Literacy and Foundational Learning (LFL) in Adult Literacy, Numeracy and English Language Learning. Family programming is an easy way to get families in the door, they want to help their children to succeed. However, if we create a safe and welcoming program and build relationships, they often will begin to open up about what they themselves need.
Once or twice a year we open our programs to anyone in the community. It helps us find new learners, but also builds bridges between Canadian born participants and newcomers. So much learning happens on both sides such as learning about different countries, cultures, food and people. It helps our Canadian born families feel more comfortable to reach out and welcome new families.
The CALP Essentials for Family Literacy Programs training goes over the "What, Why, When"; and the Adult Literacy and Learning (A.L.L) in Family Literacy Programs training goes over the How. They are such great hands-on trainings that really help you to understand how to incorporate Family Learning into your programs. The sharing from other CALP's during the training is also invaluable. Also, if you or your staff don't have a background in working with children, some child development courses, and trainings like Rhymes that Bind, BOOKS and Story Sacks are very helpful.
- Christin Trofimenkoff, Valleyview Community Learning Council
Our organization’s vision is to provide support and eliminate barriers for children to reach their full potential. We noticed a service gap in our community and identified what was missing - foundational learning support for caregivers. Family Literacy is a natural fit to meet learners where they’re at and has the driving force for adults to seek support to increase their quality of life.
We find that family literacy’s impact is significant. Adults are learning alongside their children; skills are modelled, practiced, and supported through active engagement and participation with their children. Family literacy programs can be transformative to the adult learner; we see daily the impact and confidence learners have gained and how they transition it to daily life. Whether it is building numeracy skills to increase their financial stability, budgeting for meals or to increase literacy skills to better support their children as they enter school, family literacy programs provide authentic learning for adults.
Using Family Literacy Programs as the primary mode of delivery provides learners a sense of community with other adults experiencing similar situations. Family Literacy Programs provide a welcoming and encouraging environment where learners thrive and are celebrated. In many cases we see learners making connections with other adults. They in turn celebrate and encourage each other; they are not alone.
– Erika Trufyn, The Community Association for Lasting Success
We love connecting with the adults through their children, as it is fun and play-based through books! It is a preventative measure to help the parents understand the importance of their role as a child’s first teacher.
When the parents connect with us for their own learning journey goals, we feel we have achieved our target goals. We are adult focused, so when we can get them to see the value in reading and learning for themselves, it is a win-win situation.
Transportation has been our biggest challenge, and since COVID-19, getting families back out into socializing is starting to change back to normal. However, it is still the barriered families that struggle with getting out and connecting with the community.
We have seen improvements in foundational learners' skills as they connect and come back for supports for themselves. Even if it takes a bit longer, they still come back when it fits their learning needs and goals as these can change in life. It is a mode of delivery; to offer language rich leaning opportunities is essential to help leaners better understand where they are, and if there are any gaps in their learning.
We consider them a "feeder program." It is important to have role models in the group, so opening the program to all families gives them the opportunity to network and share with other families. We categorize our family literacy programs under CCB, ESL and sometimes Foundational. We feel it is also the facilitator's job to guide relationships and strengthen skills through adults who have a good handle on life and can share their knowledge, skills and expertise with ESL learners, foundational learners and parents who are struggling.
Our best training has been life experience, raising our own children, and working in schools. However, that is not everyone's scenario. Helpful training includes: The Building Blocks, Literacy and Parenting Skills courses, Story Sacks, and Parent Child Mother Goose. It really can depend on the facilitator's background and their desire to offer programs that support their community. Training really needs to be flexible, as no two families are identical.
– Louise Henrickson, Drumheller Community Learning Society
The Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning (GPCLL) is an organization that offers literacy and English language programs for adults and families through relevant programming that is responsive to the needs of our community.
Family literacy programs help caregivers to succeed as parents by enhancing bonds between parents and children and strengthening connections between families, schools, and other institutions, which leads to a stronger community.
Family Literacy programming develops literacy skills together as a family, which can produce better educational outcomes for children and adults alike. Family engagement in children’s learning has an overall positive impact on the children’s achievement in school. Family literacy programs can help newcomer families integrate into their new communities by providing opportunities to meet other families, learn about local resources, and socialize amongst each other.
Some of the greatest challenges in offering family literacy programming include difficulty reaching marginalized communities, language barriers, lack of transportation, or lack of access to technology.
We have noticed that parents have more confidence interacting with instructors, facilitators, and peers, as well as in getting their driver’s license, and registering for other programs to help improve their English for when they apply for jobs. Parents are also reaching out to other agencies for assistance and even helping other families by passing along information they know can benefit others. LFL programs help adults improve their literacy and essential skills such as reading, writing, and numeracy, to better participate in their communities, workplaces, and age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life. The result of this has been impactful to the lives of families as they continue to learn new skills that are relevant and intentional.
Training that has helped us feel confident in offering family literacy programs are CALP Essentials for Family Literacy Programs, Introduction to Adult Foundational Learning, Trauma-Informed Care, and the Outcomes-based Measurement and Evaluation for the Community Adult Learning Program e-Learning.
- Jennifer Plagata, Grande Prairie Council for Lifelong Learning
Thank you so much to these practitioners for sharing a glimpse of the impact the family literacy programs they are involved in are making in their communities!
Would you like to share about your CALP-funded family literacy programming?
Here are some prompt question to get you started:
(1) Why does your CALP choose to offer family literacy programming?
(2) What have been the greatest benefits?
(3) What have been the greatest challenges?
(4) How have you seen adult foundational learners improve their foundational learning skills through family literacy programming?
(5) Under which literacy and foundational learning (LFL) area do you categorize your family literacy programming as a mode of delivery, and why?
(6) What resources or trainings have helped you or your staff the most to feel confident in offering family literacy programming?
Please comment below.
Want to learn more about CALP Family Literacy Programming?
Here are some places to start:
(1) CALP Essentials for Family Literacy Programs Training
(2) Adult Literacy and Learning in Family Literacy Programs Training
(3) CALP-funded Family Literacy Programs Operations e-Learning
(4) Your Regional Support Staff and Community Learning Network Team
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