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Trend shows children of newcomers reading to parents

Today, Jan. 27, is Family Literacy Day in Canada, a day to “raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family,” according to ABC Life Literacy
Elementary school student Hala reads in English to mom Manjea, at their home. Submitted photo

Most people think of families reading together when they think of literacy, said ABC Life Literacy Executive Director Mack Rogers, but “literacy is so much more than that."

"It’s activities that families can do together — following recipes and cooking together, singing, play. Anything that is based in life-long learning," he said. 

Since 1999, Jan. 27 has been Family Literacy Day in Canada —  a day to “raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family,” according to ABC Life Literacy, the non-profit organization that launched the day 20 years ago.

The organization has made a variety of resources available at no charge to communities across the country. For this anniversary year, “We’ve updated a lot of our material and created some new activities” with the hope that more communities than ever will participate, said Rogers.

The Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library has partnered with the organization to host the HSBC Family Literacy First program that brings parents and children together to practice family literacy.

“HSBC provides worksheets and activities for kids, and we have those available for kids and families to use while they are visiting the library,” said librarian Andrea Ciurria.

Although there is no specific programming associated with catalogue, or anything specific planned at the library for Family Literacy Day, more than 50 fun stories and activities are readily available in English, French, simplified Chinese, Tagalog and Arabic.

Families can just ask at the reference desk to access the materials, Ciurria said.

“It has been used with a lot of success,” not only in libraries and by local organizations, but also in schools, said Rogers.

There’s one trend that has developed in recent years. While ABC Life Literacy programs focused “on parents as the means to improve the reading and writing skills of all family members,” it is now often the kids who are reading to parents and taking the lead, especially when families are newly arrived in Canada.

“Absolutely, school-age children are often the leaders, the early adopters,” Rogers said. “It’s often connected with a new skill they want to showcase – using an iPad or Skype.”

The trend has been captured by organizations like Youth Empowering Parents (YEP) in Toronto.

“Kids have a curriculum where they use the technology and teach their parents,” Rogers explained. “It’s started to be carried into our education system, engaging the whole family.”

ABC Life Literacy is “a national voice for family literacy,” he concluded, providing encouragement for organizations like YEP and developing resource materials. “It’s our goal, through our website to get the actual activities out there. It’s really about everybody getting engaged.”

Statistics Canada’s 2013 statistics found that 48 per cent of adult Canadians have low literacy skills. Reading together and participating in activities that support numeracy and literacy can not only improve the reading skills of all involved but also strengthen family ties, inspire creativity, improve outcomes in both education and employment – and it can be a whole lot of fun.

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Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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