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Making Literacy a Family Affair Helps Kids and Parents

December 20, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Parents in schools across the nation are learning how to bring literacy into their homes - and it starts with mom and dad going to class. The National Centers for Learning (NCFL) implemented a family literacy program a decade ago in 30 cities, and a new report shows that as a result, parents are better equipped to help their children succeed in school.

Sharon Darling, Center president and founder, said parents also are in the classrooms - gaining the skills and confidence they need to engage with their child.

"They actually sit with their child and participate in the class, and understand what is required of their children and how they can carry that learning into the home. That's been very powerful. It's a very comprehensive approach to really looking at the whole cyclical issue of under-education," Darling said.

All parents in the schools reported that the greatest benefit of family literacy is their own sense of increased support for their children's education. Darling noted that these parents are more likely to attend conferences and after-school programs, and the students are demonstrating good behavior and regular attendance.

Darling said they have also seen great success with the children they have tracked at more than 40 program sites on Native American reservations.

"They start out at sometimes the 20th percentile on national tests as 3- and 4-year-olds, and by the time they reach kindergarten, they're on the national average. And it didn't just happen with a good early-childhood curriculum - the parents knew what to do, and the home became a learning environment" she said.

The report found that the program narrowed the achievement gap among African Americans, Latino and Hispanic Americans, as well as their white and Asian American counterparts. And Darling said in households where English is not the primary language, it had extra benefits for parents.

"We're finding that not only children's achievement test scores outrank those of other children in the school and in the program, but the parents are much more engaged. The parents who are not English-speakers start to speak English, and start to interact with the schools," she added.

NCFL's Toyota Family Literacy Program is the first national family literacy program created to address literacy needs of Hispanic and immigrant families with children in kindergarten through third grade.

The report found gains in student achievement, parent engagement and adult reading behaviors. It is available at http://familieslearning.org/pdf/TFLPSynthesis.pdf.

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