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Family Literacy


In spite of the focus on early childhood, educators are beginning to develop family literacy programs for older children and their families. One such program is Effective Partners in Secondary Literacy Learning (EPISLL) developed by Trevor Cairney (1995). He reported success in helping parents, who themselves had not completed secondary school, to support their adolescent children's literacy learning.

Such initiatives point to positive aspects of family literacy programs and research, particularly those that aim to empower families to take an active and equitable role in their children's learning, as well as addressing broader social issues that shape literacy. For example, in Canada, PALS (Parents as Literacy Supporters) is a program where parents of kindergarten children in British Columbia identify that which they want to learn and help design sessions. Sessions vary from one community to the next, depending on parents' interests. The most powerful aspect of this program is that it lowers barriers between schools and parents because parents spend time working with their children in classrooms.

Increasingly, community partnerships are seen as a central part of family literacy provisions with the potential to address broader social issues that affect families. For example, rural and northern communities in Canada have formed a network of partnerships among community health organizations, schools, childcare centers, community colleges, universities, and family support programs to offer families seamless services that meet needs for learning opportunities, social support, and health care. Parents also have opportunities to spend time in their older children's schools, and to meet with health care professionals in informal settings. This promotes the formation of social support networks among families, contributes to community building, and builds the capacity of community partners to address the broader issues related to literacy, such as unemployment, parents' fear of schools, and social isolation.

Inner-city writing projects, such as the Journal of Ordinary Thought's writing workshops in Chicago, Illinois, similarly provide a context for families to address important social issues, personal goals, and connections to their communities.

Family literacy programs are not a magic bullet for the complex issues facing families and schools in the twenty-first century. However, ideas associated with family literacy, such as holistic approaches to family support, the recognition of the importance of informal learning, and the vital role of families in shaping social change, can contribute to a vision of education that values diversity. The family literacy field continues to evolve, and the direction in which it goes will depend on the extent to which policies promote all, regardless of gender, culture, race, and class.


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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsFamily Literacy - Family Literacy Programs, Family-school Relationships, Focus On Storybook Reading, Early Childhood Focus - Issues