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Family Literacy – A Holistic Approach to Lifelong Learning and Student Success

by on March 20, 2019

It can be tough to plan programs that engage the whole family. Finding a format that can appeal to both children and adults isn’t easy. So why do it? Research shows parent involvement means better learning outcomes for our kids. And the public library is an ideal community space for these types of programs.

Family literacy is a growing area of public library service. “Engaging families in anywhere, anytime learning is critical to children’s academic and social development, but it is also a matter of equity,” according to Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement, a Public Library Association resource.[1] Family literacy is a more holistic view of children’s literacy. It broadens the scope of literacy to include lifestyle choices and language barriers. Reduced barriers to access means children have a better environment and more resources to develop their literacy skills.

So what does an effective library family literacy program look like?
At the Waukegan (IL) Public Library, ambassadors reached out to the local Latino community. They gained ideas for how the library could better reach this population. They began focusing on early childhood education and grade-level reading. New programs were developed including Conversational ESL and Health Awareness.[2] Houston Public Library worked with local health agencies. Together they expanded access to health care and health resources in their community. Their Healthy Literacy Initiative For Everyone (L.I.F.E.) program provides mobile wellness clinics and nutrition classes. Classes are intergenerational and focus on healthy lifestyles.[3] Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library offered a series for families of kindergarten through 8th grade students. A licensed social worker met with families monthly. Together they talked about ideas for students to succeed.[4]

Family engagement is all about building relationships and building on family strengths. The Five Rs of family engagement are Reach out, Raise up, Reinforce, Relate, and Reimagine. Each strategy is a way libraries can support family literacy in their communities. Successful programs mean families are more connected to libraries and have more knowledge about resources. They develop relationships with other families in the community. This, in turn, helps them grow their parenting skills.

Two solid resources come from the Public Library Association. Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement is a great overview. It explains why family engagement is important to children’s success.[5] Ideabook: Libraries for Families puts these ideas into action.[6] The Ideabook has real-life examples of adding family engagement strategies into library services.

Taking small steps can improve learning opportunities for children. Provide books in your community’s families’ home languages. Designate spaces for conversations between families. Get outside the library walls and spread the word about the services available. Solicit ideas from families. Incorporate best practices into your library’s day-to-day work to create community spaces where families can thrive.

1. M. Elena Lopez, Margaret Caspe, and Lorette McWilliams, Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project, 2016), http://www.hfrp.org/librarycta
2. Illinois Library Association. “Going Beneath the Surface: Outreach to Latino and Other Communities.” Illinois Library Association. January 17, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2019. https://www.ila.org/publications/ila-reporter/article/56/going-beneath-the-surface-outreach-to-latino-and-other-communities.
3. “Healthy L.I.F.E.” Houston Public Library. January 19, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2019. http://houstonlibrary.org/learn-explore/healthy-life.
4. Benson, John, and John Benson. “Cuyahoga County Public Library Invites Families to Grow with Ongoing Series.” Cleveland.com. January 08, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2019. https://www.cleveland.com/parma/index.ssf/2018/01/cuyahoga_county_public_library_40.html.
5. M. Elena Lopez, et al., “Public Libraries.”
6. Heather B. Weiss, Margaret Caspe, M. Elena Lopez, and Lorette McWilliams, Ideabook: Libraries for Families. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project, 2016), https://globalfrp.org/content/download/73/436/file/IdeaBook.pdf.

Other Resources
Family Engagement: Public Library Association

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