The statistics are disturbing: 1 in 4 American children do not know how to read. Students are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school, greatly limiting their ability to find meaningful employment. Research also indicates that 85 percent of children in the juvenile justice system are not literate. Additionally, over 60 percent of prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

When I was a tutor for a St. Paul area literacy program, the kids would mention time and again that often their own parents could not read at a sufficient level. In order to break the cycle of illiteracy and help both children and their parents not only become literate but discover the joy of reading, Family Literacy Programs fall under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, developed through the U.S. Department of Education.

Family Literacy Programs

The phrase family literacy refers to a continuum of programs that addresses the intergenerational nature of literacy. The celebration of November as Family Literacy Month emerged from the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Family literacy programs integrate four key areas: (1) interactive literacy activities between parent and child; (2) training in parenting activities; (3) literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency; (4) age appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences.

The idea behind family literacy is that parents are supported as the first teachers of their children. Programs work with individuals as well as with the family unit. While family literacy programs provide developmental experiences for young children, their parents are offered instruction in parenting skills and parental support to change patterns of family interaction. Some programs build the literacy skills of parents and extend learning opportunities to include pre-employment and employment skills. Instructional approaches are modified appropriately to respond to the variety of cultures within each program. Family literacy programs vary across the country as each program works to meet the needs of the participants as well as that of the community. A list of activities to get you started include:

  1. Set aside a little time for reading every day, even if it’s only for 15 or so minutes.
  2. Go through both old and new books and set some of your favorites around the house. They make great decorations and maybe one of the kids will pick one up and start reading!
  3. Take a few trips to the library.
  4. Read your child the book version of their favorite movie. If they can read on their own, encourage them to read it!
  5. Start a book club with friends and family.
  6. Participate in a book drive and donate old or used books you no longer need. This will help families in need read to their kids.

Parents Need to be Involved

Research has shown that parental involvement in their children’s schools influences student achievement, attendance, motivation, self concept and behavior. Parents who read to their children, have books in their home, exhibit a positive attitude toward school and establish high achievement goals for their children tend to have higher achievers than parents who do not. Adults who have not mastered the basic skills cannot model appropriate literacy behavior and often pass on to their children the attitudes and abilities that keep them from breaking the cycle of illiteracy.

A wonderful resource to foster Family Literacy is the St. Paul, Minnesota based non-profit Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute.  PPGLI publishes books that focus on leadership development, cultural appreciation, and career exploration. PPGJLI operates an online bookstore and provides book club lists:

In addition, the organization has an exclusive PPGJ book collection: These books tell the accomplishments of many great African American figures, the importance of African history and events, and the impact of other Africans around the world. The works promote the power of literacy and the joy of reading at anytime of year.

Additional Resources

To help end the cycle of illiteracy and youth and adults, the U.S. Dept. of Education provides the following list of resources:

Even Start Family Literacy Programs:

Compensatory Education Programs:

Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs:

Head Start:

National Center for Family Literacy:

Literacy is the foundation of knowledge and sharing reading a book as a family unit is another opportunity to expand all of our horizons for the better.


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