September 20-26 is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, a reminder that according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) roughly 43 million adult citizens of the United States fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category. This number is not only worrisome because of what it represents, but how it will ultimately affect the education of the upcoming generation. Research has shown that parents and caretakers have the most influence on the academic path of their children, and that a mother’s level of reading is one the greatest determinants of her child’s academic success, emphasizing the importance of adult education.
What is Family Literacy?
In 1977, family literacy was coined as the umbrella term to describe the variety of literacy programs created and delivered in an intergenerational context. Extensive research has narrowed down the concept of family literacy to be surrounding four main points:
1. Children’s Education - Age appropriate education that will help prepare children for success in academia and life
2. Adult Education - Literacy training that will help adults of the household to become economically self-sufficient
3. Parent Education - Training for parents on how to become the primary teacher for their children
4. Interactive Parent/Child (Dual or Multi-Generational) Literacy and Learning Activities - Interactive literacy activities between parents and children, ranging from game nights to more intensive and durational educational activities.
The dual approach of teaching child and parent together goes to show how important adult education is and the way illiteracy ripples throughout society, forming cracks in different areas. The risks for those who can’t read, or can barely read, are significant and range from health to crime, link to poverty rates, and cause employment barriers.
The correlation between low literacy rates in adults and their socioeconomic status is strong. Nearly 30% of adults with household incomes that are at or below the poverty line do not have a high school diploma. Salaries of adults with below-basic literacy skills are, on average, $28,000 less than salaries of adults at the proficient levels. Countering this trend for future generations is something that can be combated with the implementation of Family Literacy, encouraging not only children to perform in their academics, but also providing adults the skills they need to be successful at work and at home.
How to Promote Your Own Family’s Literacy:
Promotion of family time and group learning is a great place to start. Parent-child interactions are at the center of family literacy and family education programs. Whether at home, the classroom or community, households coming together to work, play, read, and learn tends to have a stronger parent-child relationship and see a positive result in child language, literacy, emotional growth and cognitive development. (NCFL, 2019)
If your family doesn’t already have household dinner at least once a week, set aside the time and create an opportunity for you to come together over a meal. This will allow discussion from multiple generations, ultimately introducing and normalizing your children to new words, phrases, and meanings. Starting conversations, enhancing vocabulary, and story-telling and social skills can all be acquired through family dinners at the kitchen table. Another fun way to promote family literacy is a household game night, whether it’s Scrabble or Monopoly, they each can help in their own manners.
Parent engagement and involvement with their child’s literacy and education is a key determinant of their academic success. Becoming involved as a family to co-develop skills, vocabulary, and educational tools are the core at majority of family literacy programs. Adult and family educational resources in the Columbus area, as well as organizations that provide certified information, will be listed below for those who wish to seek out programs to further their family’s literary development.
● Columbus Literacy Council - Offers a variety of services to promote family stability and education as well as adult education courses, basic literacy classes and community programs.
● National Center for Families Learning “30 Days of Families Learning Together” Activity Guide
● Next Chapter Book Club - National organization that provides teens and adults of all ages with educational disabilities and a wide range of reading skills with a trained staff to read aloud and have weekly book discussions.
● National Coalition for Literacy - their page for AEFL Week has a great list of NCL and partner resources surrounding the education of family and adult literacy.