Mercedes Santiago - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - April 2018

Mercedes Santiago.jpg

Please join us in congratulating Mercedes Santiago - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for April 2018!

Mercedes has been a Words Alive Volunteer for over two years.  She is a devoted reader who brings consistency and positive energy to each of her Read Aloud Program sessions.  Mercedes is also one of the first to respond to fill in for a fellow reader.  She has volunteered for the organization's annual fundraiser, the Author's Luncheon as well. We rely so much on commitment and follow through, and Mercedes exemplifies those traits in a volunteer.

Thanks, Mercedes, for your commitment and enthusiasm! 


Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Mercedes Santiago below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Mercedes Santiago and I retired after 38 years of being a school counselor for San Diego Unified School District. I'm very grateful that I had such a wonderful career supporting teachers, administrators, parents and those amazing students. Just as my career was fulfilling my retirement is equally as rich. I enjoy new experiences, salsa dancing, the arts, yoga, meditating and volunteering. Life is too good to sit back and not participate!

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
I must thank my friends, Charlene Sapien and Estela Salazar, who introduced me to Words Alive. Reading has been the perfect vehicle to be part of student's lives.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
Seeing the children smiling so happy when you enter the classroom is just as thrilling and exciting for me as it is to them. I really like to spend time listening to the student's understanding of the message and how it relates to them. I like to expound upon self-respect and tolerance whenever the book bridges these topics. I truly look forward to our time together.

What have you been reading lately?
I love having a book in my hand and presently I'm enjoying Howard Cutler M.D. & His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness. Cutler writes that Dali tells you that happiness is the purpose of life and that every motion of our life is towards happiness. How to get there has always been the question. For me, it's service to others that truly makes me happy.

Thank you all for bringing joy to children.

Why Do We Read Aloud?

By Jennifer van Pelt

 A picture of a young student paying rapt attention to a volunteer as they read a book aloud.

A picture of a young student paying rapt attention to a volunteer as they read a book aloud.

Why is Reading Aloud Important?

A child’s first exposure to books is normally when their parents or guardians first read aloud to them. Through this, they become familiar with the way in which a book is read from front to back, the plot line, and the dialogue between characters. This seems to be a given for children, however, it is so much more than that. According to Richard Anderson in his report titled “Becoming a Nation of Readers”: “The single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” As the report goes on to describe, this is not only so children can follow along with your finger and start to recognize words and sounds -- though these are the starting steps. The teacher or parent needs to engage the child by asking questions about the story that makes them think and relate the story to real life events.

Can it Benefit Others Aside From Children?

Reading aloud is often a strategy employed in early years of schooling, but fades away with time -- but there is no reason for it to! It can be beneficial to teens and adults that never got the experience of participating in read alouds when they were younger. Reading aloud to older children and adults can assist them by giving them context clues to words, tones, or emotions associated with the story. Often times, the mere act of discussing or listening to others speak can help comprehension. There are a few different learning styles that vary from student to student: auditory, read/write, visual, and kinesthetic. Reading aloud touches on the auditory aspect for the students in the classroom, but it also can hit on the read/write learning style as well when the student follows the words in the books as the teacher reads aloud. This is important in the student knowing how to recognize new vocabulary words for the future.

Bridging the Gap

While reading aloud in the classroom is expected for the first few years of school, it is also important that these activities take place in the home. As cited by, 48% of families below the poverty level read to their preschoolers each day, compared with 64% of families whose incomes were at or above the poverty level. This disparity continues into the classroom when the child has less exposure, less practice, and is overall less comfortable than the students who regularly hear and experience books in the home. Getting these students their own books is the first step to bridging this gap.

At Words Alive, we focus on the students who do fall below the poverty line and haven’t had the amount of exposure to reading that some of their counterparts may have had at home. We believe in the power of reading aloud so much that we have a program for young children called The Read Aloud Program. This program focuses on Preschool through 3rd grade students and brings trained volunteers into the classroom to read aloud to approximately 4,300 children from low-income communities every week. This helps to level the playing field and give these students the opportunity to increase their comprehension and comfort level with reading early on so they can reach eventual success in reading. To find out more information about our Read Aloud Program or the other literacy programs we offer, head to our Programs page.

For more information about Words Alive, please click here.


Meghan Scripture - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - March 2018

Meghan Scripture.jpg

Please join us in congratulating Meghan Scripture - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for March 2018!

Meghan is a passionate and energetic addition to our volunteer family.  She joined the Teen Services Program this past fall as a book group facilitator at Monarch.  Since then, she has flourished in the classroom with her group of students. Meghan livens up the discussion by facilitating cooperative learning opportunities to encourage student participation. Her volunteer teammates often sing her praises, recognizing engaging ideas she brings to the classroom and the support she brings to the team.

In addition to her classroom support, she has helped spread the word about our programs and even recruited more volunteer support from her current employer, GoFundMe.

Meghan is a joy to work with and we feel lucky to have her in our program.  Thanks for the work you do for our community!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Meghan Scripture below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
As a former military brat, I found that having my nose in a book was a way to bring comfort and familiarity to each new city and home. I majored in English because I simply couldn't imagine what else I could possibly be as interesting as reading and writing. Graduation and a job in sales had me itching for more, so at 26, I found myself in South Korea working as an ESL teacher. Two years later, my thirst for living abroad still wasn't quenched, so I joined the Peace Corps and was blessed to be placed in a remote Fula village in The Gambia- a tiny country known as the "Smiling Coast of Africa." Upon my return, I made my home in San Diego and am loving life on this very different, but equally amazing coast working for GoFundMe, a company I believe in.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
One of the best parts of Peace Corps for me was meeting one my best friends, Jess Fryman, who introduced me to Words Alive after moving out to San Diego and finding a job that she was truly passionate about. I've become a huge fan of Words Alive and all the opportunities it brings to so many kids in the greater San Diego area.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
I'd say the most rewarding part of my volunteer experience so far has been the little moments. We've had a couple of sessions where the kids are excited about the topic that they just keep talking. It's also been a pleasant surprise to see that regardless of the topic, these young minds are mature and introspective in ways I just didn't expect. I feel at times they are teaching *me* a thing or two!

What have you been reading lately?
I'm currently reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Apartheid is such a heavy topic, but he makes it so digestible with his impeccable comedic timing and wit.

Let's Celebrate National Library Week!

By Jennifer van Pelt

 An image of a library. Hundreds of books on bookshelves appear in the image. Photo credit:  square(tea) on flickr

An image of a library. Hundreds of books on bookshelves appear in the image. Photo credit: square(tea) on flickr

What is National Library Week?

April 8th kicks off the 60th anniversary of National Library Week. This week is focused on the importance of books and libraries as well as their contribution to society. Libraries and their patrons across the country are encouraged to participate via social media, contests, events, and fundraisers. The American Library Association (ALA) has partnered with several notable advocates and authors over the years with the goal of promoting reading and the usage of libraries.

Why The Focus on Libraries?

April is also designated by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) to be School Library Month. These two celebrations remind us of the importance of libraries beyond the obvious destination for books. Libraries are a free resource where members of the community can learn to read at any age, get the support needed to find a job, or bring their children to participate in read-alouds.

It is important that children have this exposure to books, and libraries provide the perfect opportunity with their knowledgeable workers and friendly volunteers. Librarians understand that not everyone is literate, so they provide tutors to help teach reading skills, a safe environment to learn about books, and the means to show children the value of reading. At Words Alive, we serve low-income, and sometimes homeless students. School and public libraries are the ideal place for them to go to learn and participate in a variety of activities that can also further their literacy skills, including homework help and art workshops.

What Can I Do To Support Libraries?

Thursday, April 12, is particularly focused on advocating for libraries and taking action on what matters. This year, Take Action for Libraries Day, will be centered around safeguarding funding that libraries depend on. This involves reaching out to local politicians to show your support for libraries, as legislation and tax reforms can affect them. Check your local library’s social media page to see if they mention something about this is in the works and see how you can help!

Alternatively, show your support by becoming a member at your local library! There are so many other benefits libraries provide aside from borrowing books. Most libraries partner with various volunteer groups to help out with topics such as teaching English as a second language, tax preparation, job searching, family literacy, and even bike repair workshops! If you see a need in your community that your library doesn’t already offer a program for, reach out and see how you can help. Libraries are always looking for regular volunteers to expand their reach into the community. You can also visit your local library’s website to see what upcoming events you can attend.

The ALA also has an ongoing initiative called Libraries Transform, an awareness campaign about the ways in which libraries transform lives. Sign up to be a part of the movement!

No matter what you do this week, take a moment to reflect on the ways in which libraries have impacted your life - and be grateful that libraries exist at all!



Positivity, Hope, and Optimism: The Butterfly Project Presents at Monarch School

By Jeffrey Goldman, Words Alive Board Chair & ABG volunteer at Monarch

 A group picture of The Butterfly Project presenters with Stephen Keiley's 8th grade class at Monarch School and Words Alive ABG volunteers.

A group picture of The Butterfly Project presenters with Stephen Keiley's 8th grade class at Monarch School and Words Alive ABG volunteers.

Stephen Keiley’s 8th grade class at the Monarch School was recently visited by members of the Butterfly Project – an organization devoted to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. Three representatives of the Butterfly Project – each of them children of Holocaust survivors – shared both their parents’ memories as well as their own remembrances of what it was like to grow up as a child of a survivor.

The key message the survivors communicated was that in spite of the horrific experiences their parents were subjected to during World War II, they remained “positive, hopeful, and optimistic” for the remainder of their lives. The volunteers made it clear to the children — all of whom have been impacted by homelessness and other significant challenges — that “even though you can go through the most difficult time in your life, it is possible to still have hope and attain a highly successful and rewarding life.”

At the outset of the session, the volunteers handed out cards to the children with quotes from survivors about life before the war, during the war, and after the war. The 8th graders were then called upon throughout the one-hour presentation to read the often poignant quote contained on their card.

 Picture of a student holding a case containing one of the yellow stars.

Picture of a student holding a case containing one of the yellow stars.

During the presentation, photos of stores with anti-Jewish graffiti and photos of people wearing yellow stars to identify them as Jews were displayed. One volunteer shared a real Jewish yellow star as well as her father’s concentration camp uniform. She showed the children where her father had cut a hole in his shirt to hide a spoon, and explained that the spoon gave him dignity because he was then able to eat soup with it instead of drinking it from a bowl. She also had a student try on her father’s cap — which was too small for the young boy — in order to show the children how malnutrition had actually shrunk her father’s body.

One particularly powerful story was about one presenter’s mother, who was “adopted” by a slightly older woman in the concentration camp after her own parents were killed by the Nazis. Her adopted mother came from a prominent catering family, and was chosen by the Nazi officers to cook them food on both a daily basis and for the large parties they would host for visiting officers. When she was caught sneaking food to her “daughters” (she also adopted another parent-less girl at the camp) and threatened with death, she stood up to the Nazis and told them they’d never kill her since they loved her food so much. They backed off their threat, looked the other way as she fed her “daughters” leftover food from her kitchen, and as a result, there are 22 lives in the world — children and grandchildren of the two girls whose lives she saved.

 Picture of the students examining an actual concentration camp uniform worn by one of The Butterfly Project's relatives.

Picture of the students examining an actual concentration camp uniform worn by one of The Butterfly Project's relatives.

At the end of the session, the volunteers handed out ceramic butterflies for the children to paint. These will be returned to the volunteers who will fire them in a kiln and then bring them back to the class so that they can be installed on a wall at the Monarch School. Ultimately, the goal of the Butterfly Project ( is to have 1.5 million butterflies on the walls of temples, churches, schools, and other public facilities all over the world, representing every one of the children who were killed during the Holocaust.

At the close of the session, during a question-and-answer discussion, one particularly astute student asked the children of the survivors, “Do you personally forgive the Nazis?” One volunteer answered, “Maybe not forgive, but I have moved on. Because if you don’t, you’re letting them win, letting them get what they want.”

Teacher Stephen Keiley ended the day by thanking the volunteers and telling them, “By telling your stories you are putting life, putting a face, on these stories that we read about.”

National Volunteer Appreciation Month: What Are the Benefits of Volunteering?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

 Two of our Adolescent Book Group volunteers facilitating a book discussion at La Mesa Blended Community School. Photo credit:

Two of our Adolescent Book Group volunteers facilitating a book discussion at La Mesa Blended Community School. Photo credit:

As we enter National Volunteering Month, take a moment to think to yourself: when is the last time you set aside a few hours to give back to your community? If it’s been longer than you would like to admit, you are similar to nearly 75% of Americans, according to 2015 data from the Corporation for National and Community Service. For those of you that perhaps don’t volunteer as often as you would like, take a look below at the amazing benefits that volunteering can give you!

Networking Opportunities

Volunteering brings people from many backgrounds together with the goal of working for one common cause. There is no better place to step outside your comfort zone and meet others. In the day and age of social media, you can easily stay in contact with those you meet at volunteering events to plan attending future events, expand your friend circle, or further your professional network.

Expand Your Skill Set

The basis of volunteering your time or services to a cause is that you are not being monetarily compensated -- you are donating it! This gives you the perfect opportunity to give your time or services in exchange for experience, something that you cannot put a price on and is invaluable for your degree, career, family, or personal development. Even if gaining experience isn’t a focus for you, you can discover a new hobby through your newfound skills.

Explore a New Career

Perhaps you have spent your entire career in one field, but have always wondered about a different career. Many volunteering organizations work just like companies: the position you are contemplating is very likely available in some sort of volunteering organization. Keep your day job, but test out your skills with a volunteering group on the side who have any number of positions available: Event planner, Outbound Marketing, Tutor, Social Media Specialist -- the opportunities are endless!

Your Own Well-Being

It would be difficult to find someone who finished a volunteering event not feeling great about themselves. Volunteering is ultimately for the benefit of others (though we know there’s a lot in it for you), so when you see how thankful others are for your services, you can’t help to be proud of your hard work! As discussed in an essay titled “Helper’s High” by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander, people who give their time or money are 42% more likely to be happy. This aforementioned “Helper’s High” refers to the state of euphoria that is experienced when you give to others.

 Picture of long-time Words Alive volunteer Karen Malin holding a flower pot craft containing pictures of the students she reads to! The flower pot says, "Ms. Karen, thank you for helping us grow." 

Picture of long-time Words Alive volunteer Karen Malin holding a flower pot craft containing pictures of the students she reads to! The flower pot says, "Ms. Karen, thank you for helping us grow." 

Improve Your Community

Communities thrive off the participation and engagement of those within them, and the drive to improve it from within. Volunteering opportunities focus on just that: teaching, improving the health, or providing much-needed services for the members of your community. If the members of a community are not their own biggest advocates for improvement, others may struggle to hear their voices.

The benefits of volunteering are endless, as are the opportunities. A quick Google search for volunteering opportunities in your area will yield millions of results. VolunteerMatch is the largest online volunteer network, or you can search directly for the cause you care about to see what opportunities are available! At Words Alive, we appreciate all of our hard-working volunteers, and we are always ready to welcome more! If you enjoy teaching, working with children, or just want to explore our available opportunities, head to our main site and Get Involved!



What is Kindergarten Readiness and Why Does it Matter?

By Jennifer van Pelt

In the years leading up to a child’s first formalized schooling experience, parents play an important role in laying the foundation for future schooling success. With kindergarten being required in 30% of all states and 52% of all states requiring a Kindergarten Entrance Exam, making sure children have the cognitive skills to prepare them for kindergarten is an important step in ensuring early literacy success and continued development.

 A picture of some children in our Family Literacy Program! They are posing with puppets they made during the FLP session.

A picture of some children in our Family Literacy Program! They are posing with puppets they made during the FLP session.

What is Kindergarten Readiness and Why Does it Matter?

“Kindergarten readiness” is a term that outlines what many education experts tend to agree will help a child succeed in kindergarten. With kindergarten being the first schooling experience for many children, it is important that they are comfortable, confident, and eager to learn in the classroom in order to set the tone for what the next several years of their life will revolve around: school.

Recently, Common Core Standards have been introduced into classrooms nationwide. These standards establish clear guidelines of what a student needs to know at the end of each grade. These standards have been fully implemented in 41 states and help to establish expectations for what your child should be prepared to learn in kindergarten. A few notable literacy-related Common Core Standards for kindergarten are:

  • Identify major characters, setting, and basic plotline of a story.

  • Recognize different types of text, including poems and storybooks.

  • Recognize what an author's and illustrator’s roles are in a book and how to identify them.

  • Identify the parts of a book including the front, spine, and back.

  • Understand the way in which we read and write: From left to right, in strings of sentences, and spaces between words.

  • Identify the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make.

By understanding what your child needs to know by the end of their year in kindergarten, you can work backwards, determine where the biggest gaps are, and ensure that your child is prepared for school.

How Can You Help Your Child Become Kindergarten Ready?

As summarized in the  “Early School Readiness” report by Child Trends, the following four skills are indicators of early literacy and cognitive development: ability to recognize letters, count to 20, write their first name, and read words in a book. While these are not an official or universally agreed upon measure for determining if a child is “kindergarten ready”, these competencies appear to be referred to most frequently in literature surrounding the topic and they are also supported by the Common Core Standards.

 Children in our Family Literacy Program practice skills like counting, rhyming, and color recognition by participating in fun activities!

Children in our Family Literacy Program practice skills like counting, rhyming, and color recognition by participating in fun activities!

You can  prepare your child for kindergarten by integrating the following into your family time:

  • Practice reading/writing the letters used in their name. This helps develop both the motor skills used to hold a pencil and their familiarity with the alphabet.

  • Start counting with them. This can include animals in a book or carrots on their plate. Focus on incorporating numbers and counting into their daily life.

  • Point out numbers that surround them. This can be page numbers, office numbers, road signs etc.

  • Expand their vocabulary by using diverse language during conversations. Marianne Hillemeier, PhD, completed a study on 8,700 two year olds and the amount of vocabulary they knew. Those who used more words at age two had better math and reading skills and fewer behavioral problems when starting kindergarten.

  • Teach them about books -- the front, back, spine, and how we read from left to right. This initiates a knowledge of books and prepares them to read books themselves.

At Words Alive, we understand that parents are their child’s first teacher because they have the best opportunity to prepare them with the tools needed for success in school. Our programs at Words Alive not only aim to instill reading and literacy habits in young children, but we also hope that parents leave our programs with the foundation and motivation to build these habits at home!

Learn more about our Family Literacy Program, in which we teach parents how to prepare their children for school and introduce literacy education into their homes, by checking out this page. If you are interesting in supporting these efforts, please consider donating here.


The Intersection of Art and Literacy Education

By Jennifer van Pelt

All of our programs aim to help students not only understand the importance of literacy but also fall in love with reading themselves. Our Words Alive Adolescent Book Group takes many different approaches to this, from hosting book club style discussion sessions to working on projects to writing workshops. Each year, we also hold an Arts Component that focuses on connecting a book, theme, and art medium into one exhibit created by the students. As an organization that focuses on increasing literacy in our community, part of our mission is to inspire a commitment to reading. Art brings that opportunity to inspire by allowing the conversation to be more accessible to those who may lack the confidence or interest in reading.

Case Study: Learning Through the Arts

A study was done on students who participated in the “Learning Through the Arts” (LTA) Program at the Guggenheim Museum. Over 200 students and teachers participated in the program and were later tested and interviewed to monitor their progress. For the study, an equal number of individuals did not participate in the program and were also tested at the end of the year, serving as the control group. A few notable outcomes came about from this program, as noted by ArtsEdSearch:

  • There were increases in critical thinking and literacy skills among students who participated in the LTA Program.

  • LTA students provided interview responses using language associated with higher grade levels and with more words than those who did not go through the program.

  • Teaching artists felt that their participation in LTA led them to change their teaching practice by trying new things with students, especially finding strategies to reach below average students.

This study, which included over 400 students in the state of New York, echoes the studies of others that indicate that art education teaches more than just art: it helps to expand critical thinking and language development. Additionally, with classroom sizes steadily increasing, it is important to note that bringing in supplemental forms of learning, such as art education, can appeal to those who are visual or kinesthetic learners and may be overlooked if they learn in different ways compared to their classmates.

How Can You Help Bring Art Education Into The Home?

Parents don’t need to be artistic to encourage art education in the home. As noted by Art Therapist Anna Reyner, there are a few simple ways to bring the arts into your home that will help to encourage and develop the same skills that are important for reading and writing.

  • Make art a family activity.

  • Have a corner dedicated to art activities (This can be the same as your reading corner!).

  • Create homemade art journals.

  • Relate drawings/art projects to books you’ve recently read.

These tips, though more so applicable to young children, develop habits and interests that can prove helpful throughout the child’s future schooling experience.

The Words Alive Annual Arts Component

Looking at the last tip in the list above (“relate drawings/art projects to books you’ve recently read”), this is exactly what we aim to do in our annual Arts Component. As mentioned previously, each year we have our students focus on a different book, theme, and art medium. This year, our students are going to be creating murals based on the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and using the theme “duality” as inspiration. Through this process, students learn how to connect the text to themselves and the world through art and, in the end, have the chance to see their art professionally displayed in a local gallery.

In many American schools, standardized testing is emphasized to the extent that art education can fall to the side as an extracurricular activity. By understanding the benefits art has on the reading, writing, and overall literacy skills of an individual, we can bring that same awareness back in to the classroom and home. Partnering art and literacy education serves as a multi-faceted teaching tool that can create a bigger, more meaningful impact.

For more information on our upcoming Arts Component, or any of our other programs, visit the main section of our website.


Giving Spotlight: Sandra Korwek, Danny Cung, and Chirstopher Weil & Company, Inc.

 Picture of our Board Members Sandra Korwek (left) and Danny Cung (right).  Source .

Picture of our Board Members Sandra Korwek (left) and Danny Cung (right). Source.

In 1970, at the age of 33, Christopher Weil formed a broker-dealer firm and named it Christopher Weil & Company, Inc. (CWC). In 1990, he redesigned the company as a Registered Investment Advisor to act primarily as a financial advisory and investment management firm, as well as a sponsor of (mostly) real estate-based alternative assets. With ‘eating our own cooking’ (and only our own cooking) being a cornerstone of CWC’s Best Practices, Chris and his family are among the firm’s biggest clients (all three of his adult children work for the firm and his son-in-law is the President and CEO). Now, almost 50 years after the founding of his company, we are proud and grateful to have the support of the Weil Family in more ways than one.

The Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation (WFF) has been financially
supporting Words Alive, and particularly our Family Literacy Program, for years. WFF creates educational opportunities by providing resources, time, and support to children and families in San Diego’s underserved communities.

In addition to financial support, we are thankful to have two employees from Christopher Weil & Company, Inc. donate their time and talent to Words Alive as members of our Board.

Danny Cung has been serving on our Board since 2014 and is our current Board Treasurer. Danny joined CWC full-time in 2006. Currently, Danny serves on CWC’s portfolio management team working to continuously balance clients' evolving needs with the opportunities and obstacles of the markets. He originally came to Words Alive by way of Rolling Readers; when the two organizations merged, it was a natural fit for him to join our team. Since 2014, Danny has been instrumental on our Finance Committee and Board, and we are so grateful for his time and support.

Sandra Korwek is one of our newest Board Members, but she has been a staple of the Words Alive volunteer family for years. Sandra has been serving on the Words Alive Finance Committee for three years, she currently serves on our Event Committee, and she was our Words Alive Volunteer of the Year in 2017. Sandra has over 35 years of accounting and business experience in various fields, including 17 years of operating her own accounting business specializing in nonprofit organizations. After moving to San Diego, she worked as the Business Manager for Mainly Mozart for six years before
eventually being recruited in 2006 to join the expanding accounting department at CWC. Sandra is now in charge of Contracts and Insurance for all of the many entities CWC manages.

 A picture of Sandra Korweck holding her Volunteer of the Year Award at our 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

A picture of Sandra Korweck holding her Volunteer of the Year Award at our 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Both Sandra and Danny have helped Words Alive thrive and grow, and we are excited to continue working with them, with Christopher Weil & Company, and with The Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation.

If you or your company is interested in supporting or learning more about Words Alive, please email! 

The Importance of Family Literacy

By Jennifer van Pelt

What is Family Literacy?

Family Literacy is a type of literacy education that emphasizes bringing reading and writing into the home and making it a family activity. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, children with a “richer home literacy environment displayed higher levels of reading knowledge and skills than did their counterparts with less rich home literacy environments.” Family literacy is imperative in creating a foundation for children’s learning experiences, and it all starts with the parents.

Illiteracy in today’s children can be traced back to their parent's literacy experiences in their early lives. When parents do not feel comfortable around books, they don’t read to their children and they likely don’t have many books in the house for their children to look at or read themselves. This is why family literacy programs emphasize teaching families together and ensuring that the parents understand the importance of reading outside of a school environment. It’s not just about reading though -- in the same study by the NCES, singing songs and telling stories to children can also lead to early reading success.

 A picture of a parent and child working together on an exercise in our Family Literacy Program. The child is sitting on top of the table while working, showing how we emphasize play and comfort in literacy education!

A picture of a parent and child working together on an exercise in our Family Literacy Program. The child is sitting on top of the table while working, showing how we emphasize play and comfort in literacy education!

Parents: A Child’s First Teacher

As mentioned by the Urban Child Institute, a child’s brain develops at a rapid rate during their early life. By age 3, the brain has reached 80% of its adult size. Developmental experiences in these years determine the organizational and functional status of the mature brain. This is an important time in a child’s life to talk to them, look at pictures, and read books with them so they get as much exposure as they can before they begin formalized school. Parents teach their child how to navigate the world, and when parents take time to do these things, they are teaching them healthy reading habits for life.

In the earliest stages of a child’s life, the parents don’t need high literacy to teach their kids a love of books. Just asking the child to use their imagination and create a storyline for the book themselves, teaching them various sounds, and asking them questions can help develop important habits surrounding literacy. When the families make this a routine and enjoy these activities together, the building blocks of early reading success are being set up.

 Another example of teaching with play! Two students learn terms like "through" by crawling through a tunnel at one of our Family Literacy sites.

Another example of teaching with play! Two students learn terms like "through" by crawling through a tunnel at one of our Family Literacy sites.

Healthy Reading Habits At Home

Now that we understand the importance of family literacy, here are some ideas to help build reading and literacy components into your family’s daily life. These are based off some of the key indicators of our own Family Literacy Program:

  1. Let your child see you reading.

  2. Read more than books together -- read road signs, nutritional labels, etc.

  3. Let your child pick out the books you read together.

  4. Visit the library together.

  5. Ask your child questions about the books or pictures.

  6. Relate the book to your child’s life.

  7. Sing songs and rhymes together with your child.

The Family Literacy program that Words Alive runs has demonstrated an 87% increase in the percentage of families who look at books together at home by the end of the 7 week program. This incorporation of books into the home is important when looking at future reading and literacy success. If you are curious to learn more about our Family Literacy Program and what it has to offer, the program is running right now! Head to our main website to find out more about volunteering with us or joining our Family Literacy workshops.