As educators and advocates for literacy, our efforts focus primarily on the day-to-day school environment. But to inspire a love of reading and have a positive impact on the literacy skills of today’s students, there’s one crucial ally we need in our corner: families.
Literacy Begins at Home
We all know that more reading equals better readers. Students need to read widely and deeply—and become engaged with books from an early age—to develop strong literacy skills and a real desire to read.
And this begins at home.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s America Reads Challenge (1999):
“If daily reading begins infancy, by the time the child is 5 years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food! Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week and the child’s hungry mind loses 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and stories. A kindergarten student who has not been read to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition.
No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment.”
With National Family Literacy Day approaching on November 1, now is the perfect time to think about how families can incorporate reading and other literacy activities into their daily lives. Here are some of our favorite ways for kids and parents to enjoy books, reading and literacy together.
Family-Friendly Literacy Activities
- Read together. Or separately. Really, just read.
Kids take their cues from what they see around them. Reading a favorite fairy tale or picture book aloud at bedtime, for example, allows parents to model fluency, expression, pronunciation and more—in the same way that teachers model these skills in the classroom.
But children also benefit when they see the adults around them reading on their own. Whether you’re engrossed in your favorite mystery series, reading the newspaper over breakfast on a Saturday morning or searching for nonfiction titles at the local library, you are setting the example that reading is a natural—and valuable—part of everyday life.
From fun events like book walks to mini-lessons on the value of reading workshop, Family Literacy Nights provide parents with an opportunity to better understand what engaged literacy looks like in a school setting. This experience, in turn, can help them better implement engaged literacy practices at home.
(And if you’re an educator looking for more ways to build strong family-school partnerships, we recommend An Educator’s Guide to Family Involvement in Early Literacy as a helpful and informative resource.)
- Take advantage of the many literacy resources available.
Most parents aren’t teachers or literacy experts, and that’s okay. If you’re not sure how to talk about a book with your child, look for a resource like these activity-based Reading Adventure Packs from Reading Rockets—which are designed to support parents as educators.
The National Center for Families Learning also features a wide variety of literacy-related resources and initiatives to help multiple generations learn and prosper together.
- Start a family book club.
Is there a new title that your son or daughter wants to read? Why not read it together as a family! Take a page from the book clubs and literature circles that teachers use in the classroom and get an in-depth conversation going.
Be sure to choose a book that appeals to all readers—and can accommodate all reading levels—in your family. Mother-daughter book clubs (or mother-son, father-son, father-daughter, grandparent-grandchild book clubs…whatever family dynamic you prefer) are another neat way to share books and reading with the people closest to you.
Initiate dinner table discussions.
You don’t always need to read the same titles as your children to talk about books together. Over dinner, discuss what they’re currently reading, and ask some basic comprehension questions like:
- “What is the main topic of the book?”
- “Where is the story set? How do you know?”
- “What do you think will happen next?”
- “How does this book compare to another one you have read on this topic?”
Let the conversation flow naturally, and be sure to share what you’re reading too.
- Explore print and language in the real world.
Words are everywhere—not just in books. Yes, children benefit when parents and other adults read to them on a regular basis, but there are many other language- and print-rich environments that can help families prioritize literacy from an early age.
- Point to signs in the grocery store and identify sounds like “a” for apple when shopping for produce with a preschooler
- Pull out a cookbook and show your toddler how you follow the steps to make a batch of cookies
- Sing nursery rhymes and have lots of conversations (on any topic you like!) to help children build a rich vocabulary and strong oral language skills
- Ask younger children to tell a story by drawing pictures and then “reading” their story to you
- Play a board game like Scrabble with older children to practice reading skills, expand vocabulary and more
- Listen to audio books together as a family (on a long car trip perhaps?)
- Develop 21st century literacy skills.
Today’s students need to be prepared to do more than just read; they need to know how to critically evaluate text and media in a wide variety of formats. Do your kids realize that reading something online doesn’t necessarily make it true?
While teachers are spending more and more time integrating technology into the classroom and preparing students for a world that requires an increasingly broader set of literacy skills, it’s still up to parents to help our children think deeply about the multimedia they consume.
- Talk about the apps they use and the video games they play. See if they can identify the subtle messages each piece of digital media conveys.
- After watching a family movie, take the time to research a topic or theme from the film. Watch an online video or read a news article that offers more information. And then discuss how the varying pieces of media present the topic differently.
- Do your kids understand the subtle tactics advertisers use to influence customers? From TV commercials to cereal boxes, show them how marketing works—and how strong literacy and critical thinking skills can help them make informed decisions.
Whether you’re a teacher or a parent (or both!), there are so many easy—and fun—ways to help children develop the literacy skills that are crucial to a lifetime of reading and learning. What are you waiting for? With these ideas for family-friendly literacy activities, you can get started today!