What Is “Family Literacy” Anyway?

As the newly formed Early and Family Literacy Committee met online this fall, our conversation led us to a realization that we may not all share the same definition of Family Literacy. 

We began collecting definitions of family literacy and how it connects to early literacy.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/f14.html)  includes this about family literacy:

The essence of 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 from one community to another as each program works to meet the needs of the participants and the community as well. 

ALA’s Literacy Clearinghouse (https://literacy.ala.org/) includes a page related to Family Literacy and states:

Family literacy involves the literate activities families engage in at home and in the larger community. These interactive routines might include reading and writing together, playing an educational video game, or simply talking to infants and responding to the sounds they make. 

The Ohio Literary Resource Center at Kent State University (http://literacy.kent.edu/familyliteracy/whatisit.html) describes family literacy in this way:

Family literacy is a term used to describe parents and children – or more broadly – adults and children – learning together. Also known as intergenerational literacy, and in some cases, community literacy, the rationale underlying such work is that parents (and adults in communities) are children’s first teachers; that much learning occurs beyond traditional school settings, and that learning is a lifelong process.

How do you define Family Literacy and the relationship with Early Literacy? We welcome your thoughts as we begin the work of this committee! Email us at alscfamilyliteracy@gmail.com

Today’s blog post was written by Crystal Faris, Director of Youth & Family Engagement, Kansas City (MO) Public Library, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. She can be reached at crystalfaris@kclibrary.org. 

This post addresses ALSC Core Competencies 1. 5. Commitment to Client Group: Understands current educational practices, especially those related to literacy and inquiry.


One comment

  1. Carol A Edwards

    I’m reading this with great interest as I’ve lately become aware that many families find the use of the word literacy in our messaging as somewhat problematic. WE know it doesn’t mean ignorance, but often they hear we are saying that they aren’t educated. I think it’s important that when we use the word with our patrons or customers that we are aware that we might be sounding patronizing or condescending and that’s the last thing we want to do.
    We want to let parents know when they are doing good activities that build their children’s success that we support them. We can be experts at the same time. ” Did you know when you sing with your child you are helping them hear the parts of words?” is just an example of messages that encourage and support.

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