Literacy night offers fun, lessons for whole family

Books open new worlds for children, sparking the imagination and dreams that can transform a child's life. According to the James Flanigan Foundation in Chicago, children who report higher levels of reading activity in the home consistently demonstrate higher-level skills in the classroom.

And several research studies have concluded that the lack of access to reading material in the home is one of the greatest barriers to literacy for children. When delivered in a context of learning, books provide a critical resource: a link to survival for a better future.

Because of that, Ridgeview Elementary teacher Janele Walton spearheaded a program in Craig three years ago. Funded by a Title I grant for elementary teachers, Family Literacy Night brings parents and kids together under the umbrella of reading.

"We wanted to give parents ideas to work with their kids on projects that encourage learning to read," Walton said. "We work on things that reinforce reading and spelling skills."

Charlie Griffiths, 8, would rather watch television than read. But that was before his mother started taking him to Family Literacy Night.

"One of the things they suggested here is to turn off the TV," his mother, Donna Griffiths, said. "So now I read with him and he's learning he can read more and more on his own and that it's fun. If there's any way to keep him encouraged in reading, I want to do it."

Family Literacy Night meets once a month. Walton, who coordinates the monthly programs, said the families have worked on several projects this year, including reading cookbooks and creating menus, story telling with puppets, designing board games and word games, and listening to guest speaker author Lou Dean talk about writing and reading. In October they held a Literacy Carnival, which about 400 parents and children attended. The group meets on the last Monday of every month. The number of families attending varies, and the projects are designed to appeal to children from preschool through the sixth grade.

"The families that do come have a lot of fun," Walton said.

"I think it's a great thing," Willy Georgiou said. He and his wife, Michelle a teacher at East Elementary attend every month with their six-year-old son, Darrio. "What's really great about it is that it brings the family together."

"I enjoy it it keeps me motivated," Griffiths said. "You meet other parents and find out you're not the only one who has problems getting your kids to read."

The rate of illiteracy in the United States is staggering. More than 23 million adults are functionally illiterate, according to the National Institute for Literacy.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Education reports that the 90 million Americans who scored in the lowest two literacy proficiency levels are far less likely to work full-time, earn high wages or vote, and far more likely to receive public assistance. Most psychologists say children tend to follow in their parents footsteps. If their parents can't read, the kids will probably not want to, either.

A 1987 publication by the National Governor's Association Task Force on Adult Literacy found that preschool children whose parents read to them are much better prepared to start school and perform significantly better in school than those who have not been exposed to reading.

"I've had teachers tell me they are too busy and can't give individual attention in school any more. So if the kids fall behind, there's nothing the teacher can do about it," Griffiths said. "I want Charlie's learning experience to be fun. And whatever I learn with him I can use with Ashley, his younger sister. I enjoy it it keeps me motivated."

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