Family Literacy, Family Success

By Liepold, Mary | Children's Voice, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview
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Family Literacy, Family Success

Liepold, Mary, Children's Voice

The "Reading Powers the Mind" Family Literacy Workshop is the brainchild of Middletown, Connecticut's Virginia Mathews, an energetic, long-time literacy activist and advocate who has been working since the 1940s to grow a personal passion into a national reality.

Her partner for the last 28 years has been the Library of Congress Center for the Book, directed by John Y. Cole, and its affiliated state Centers for the Book, with support from the Viburnum Foundation and other funders. Viburnum has funded the collaborative projects of 222 rural libraries in high-need states since 1998. With the Center for the Book, Viburnum has sponsored two-day training workshops for grantees around the country, and a national symposium at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

CWLA President and CEO Shay Bilchik spoke at the 2004 Library of Congress Family Literacy Workshop, and will do so again at the 2005 workshop this August. A lifelong book lover and reading advocate, CWLA Director of Individual Giving Mary Liepold attended one day's presentations. This article is based on her notes from the workshop.

Think you know all about libraries? Think again. In the 21st Century, librarians no longer see their role as sitting in the nice building that Andrew Carnegie built and waiting for readers to come to them. Today, they grow readers Dy taking books and other media-plus programs that build language and media skills-to the people, wherever they may be.

Librarians partner proactively with public and private community organizations, federal agencies, foundations, civic organizations, businesses, universities, and individual volunteers to spread the love of books and learning. And from the love of jooks, good things take wing.

We all understand that families benefit when agencies collaborate. Child welfare, housing, juvenile justice, law enforcement, and behavioral health divisions have developed memorandums of understanding, cotrained staff, and even colocated services in urisdictions across the United States.

Public libraries may or may not be in that mix in your community-but if they're not, they should be! According to Jodi Kleinmeyer of the clay County, Alabama, Department of Human Resources, "The library is the only nonjudgmental, non-means-tested public institution in the community. It has no stigma. Folks like the library."

People learn to love books from people who love books. Parents and other role models are literacy carriers. Without their influence, a book is just an inert pile of paper. But once the germ is transmitted, literacy can boost child and family well-being in many ways, starting at many different points.

Academic success is perhaps the most easily measured indicator of child well-being-which, in turn, is one of the three broad outcomes specified by the Adoption and Safe Families Act and measured by the federal Child and Family Service Reviews-and reading is the cornerstone of success in school. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 80% of all learning disabilities are reading disabilities. For teens and young adults, even those who were not turned on to books as babies, stories can provide a new way to understand themselves and their world, opening doorways to adult success. And literacy gains for parents translate directly into gains for their children, speeding an upward spiral of success.

Pre-Readers and Beginning Readers

The attitudes and aptitudes that comprise reading readiness develop long before children begin formal schooling. Experts believe the process begins at birth. Literacy projects in many communities offer parents the tools they need to develop these qualities in their children. These tools include both age-appropriate books and toys and techniques for making the most of everyday interactions. Questions like, "Why do you think the girl did that?" and "What would you have done?" inspire empathy and build problem-solving skills.

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