Family Literacy

August is Get Ready for Kindergarten Month! 

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

An image of a child in our Family Literacy Program looking excited while sitting in front of an open book.

An image of a child in our Family Literacy Program looking excited while sitting in front of an open book.

Kindergarten is one of the most important years of a child’s life. It is a time in life where they are developing more physical, social, language, and mathematical skills. Parents often presume that Kindergarten is the place where their children will learn everything they need to know. However, pre-kindergarten preparation can also make a lasting difference. So, what can you do to prepare your child for school?

Before entering the classroom on their first day, ‘one of the most important things you can do with your tot, according to teachers, is read together.’ According to Anna Elia Kontostergios, teacher at Vaughan, Ontario, it is recommended that parents create storybooks with their child. This can include snapshots of them doing day-to-day activities, and creating sentences to match what is happening in the pictures, such as “‘I am eating. I am playing.'” “Pointing to each word while reading it introduces one-to-one matching, high-frequency words they’ll be learning and punctuating.” 

You’ll also want to familiarize your future scholar with numbers through counting games, such as counting objects outside, for example: (making groups using toys around the house, going out for walks and counting different things they see at the park, the number of cars they see, or pointing at numbers in a calendar.) Whatever kind of creative game you make up for your child will be an effective preparation for them!

What Are Some Things Kindergarten Teachers Might Expect?

  • Identifying their name: Teaching your child how to write their name in any form will be helpful! 

  • Recognizing letters 

  • Pointing out certain words and sounding them out 

  • Identifying numbers (1 to 10), and representing the numbers using objects. 

Family Literacy Program

At Words Alive, we know that young readers grow up on the laps of their parents and caregivers. We know that it’s extremely important that parents have a working knowledge of literacy development and the skills that promote positive reading habits at home. For this reason, we dedicate ourselves to helping children by bringing the Family Literacy Program to the community, inspiring parents to make exploring books a robust family habit!

Our Family Literacy Programs aims to empower parents as agents of change and advocates for their families by meeting parents where they are and giving them the "ah-ha!" moments that lead to deeper engagement with their children.

How Parents Can Get Involved

In the Family Literacy Program, parents will attend seven workshops, receiving approximately ten hours of parent education that covers early literacy development topics specific to preschool age children. Each workshop will include a tailored information session, as well as skill-building exercises for parents. There will also be a group story time and guided activities for parents and children! 

To learn more about our Family Literacy Program, click here!





What Are Wordless Books?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Wordless Books Post.jpg

What Are Wordless Children’s Books and Where Can I Find Them?

Wordless children’s books rely on illustrations to tell the story and allow children to create their own narrative in their head. These books may have no words at all or may have just a few words on each page. Wordless books are commonly found in school and public libraries and can cater to children of all ages in elementary school. Popular examples include The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, and Journey by Aaron Becker.

Why are Wordless Books Important?

Wordless books are important in building  literacy skills and confidence with books. Without a set storyline, there are a lot of different directions and discussions that the book can take the reader on. This allows for a more diverse method of learning. More specific benefits include:

  • It familiarizes children with books. When just starting out on their journey with reading, children need to learn the basics of books: which way to read the book (front to back), what the spine and title page are, where to find the author’s name, etc. Wordless books provide the perfect opportunity to introduce these important aspects of reading to a young child.

  • They allow children to use their imagination. Children can use context clues to infer what will happen next in the story. They are able to make up whole conversations and narratives based on a single page of illustration. The complexity or simplicity of the story is up to them and can easily be guided by additional questions from an adult.

  • The story changes depending on who is reading it. This maintains a child’s interest in reading by never allowing the story to get repetitive. This dynamic aspect of wordless books has the potential to get children excited about all of the various book options available so they can get more creative with their stories!

  • You can read them in any language. Illustrations have no language. This means that reading as a family doesn’t need to be limited by what language is read in the home or what reading level the parents are at. Children create the story, and can do so in the language they feel most comfortable and excited about.

To help drive home the importance and dynamic use of wordless children’s books, we read these in our Family Literacy Program -- which is starting back up soon! This program, which only runs in the spring, focuses on making reading a fun habit for the whole family. Our volunteers and staff work with families to deliver ten hours of parent education over the course of seven weeks. Each workshop includes an information session and skill-building exercises for parents, group story time, and guided activities for parents and children. We continue to do this each year because we have seen promising results and feedback from the session, including a 29% increase in the positive literacy behaviors in the home environment following the workshops.

If you would like to learn more about our Family Literacy Program or how to get involved, click here.

Annual Report: Family Literacy Program

What happened in our Family Literacy Program in the 2017-2018 school year? Well…a lot!

To start, 437 families came through the door, taking home 2,511 books and clocking 1,310 hours of shared learning time. Let’s dive in and share what else happened in the program this year!

Meet Sheena

An image of Sheena Burks. She is standing in front of a bare wall and smiling at the camera.

An image of Sheena Burks. She is standing in front of a bare wall and smiling at the camera.

In our sixth year of the program, our expanded facilitator team included Sheena, a talented mother and preschool teacher who attended the program the past two years with her young boys. She is the first parent participant to go on to lead the program with other families. Sheena has been able to use her experience as a participant in the program to shape her leadership style. Over the past year, Sheena has inspired 72 families through the Family Literacy Program, while sharing her own stories and experiences to help strengthen their connection to reading. Through this unique perspective, Sheena has been able to see the incredible effects the program has on children and families.

“I had a parent say that they couldn’t get their son to read at all because he thought it was boring,” said Sheena. “But after the program, they’re saying that he wants to read more and more...he’s comfortable now — he’s not feeling forced to read!”

Reporting Out

An image of Sheena facilitating a Family Literacy session. She is sitting on the floor with guardians and children while they all look at books together.

An image of Sheena facilitating a Family Literacy session. She is sitting on the floor with guardians and children while they all look at books together.

To engage returning families, Words Alive introduced new curriculum, including new book titles and supporting activities — and it was a huge hit! What’s more, parent knowledge in understanding child development, implementation of literacy-building activities at home, and book sharing behaviors continue to increase for our families during their time with us. With the increased knowledge and skills that come from our programs, parents are empowered in their role as their child’s first and most important teacher. By the program’s end:

• 68% more families reported having a routine for looking at books with their child.

• Families reported an average 38% increase in the size of their home libraries, growing on average from 11 to 16 books.

• Families that completed our program reported a 40% increase in understanding how their preschool child learns and have created a language-rich environment for them.

Moving Forward

Parents play the most critical role in developing skills and abilities within their children. Parent engagement is one of the key factors in a quality childhood program. At Words Alive, we know that our Family Literacy Program is engaging parents in a meaningful way and making an impact on the families who participate each year. We have successfully collaborated with a variety of partners like the Fullerton School District, who offered four sessions of our program in their schools after we trained their staff and provided curriculum.

“Words Alive has empowered parents to support their children acquire valuable literacy skills, engage families in discussion about meaningful literature, and connect our parents into our school community.” —Dr. Robert Pletka, Fullerton School District Superintendent

We continue to see the same results in the families through this training model and through direct services. Going forward we want to continue to diversify where we can offer our Family Literacy Program by reaching out to families through classes located within their communities.

Learn more about our Family Literacy Program here!

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 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.



Donor Spotlight: Usborne Books

At Words Alive, the support that we receive to fulfill our mission, to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading, comes in so many different ways. Our work is made possible through the incredible volunteer hours gifted to us each week, grants, event participation, the Read for Life Campaign, book donations, and much more. 

For many of our Family Literacy participants, Words Alive is an introduction to the world of books for our youngest learners. Many of these children receive their first books through our program, a total of 10 new books throughout their seven weeks with us. 

Knowing this, Becky, a new Words Alive Volunteer, reached out to us to coordinate an amazing fundraiser for our Family Literacy Program. Through her connections - her friends, family, colleagues, and social media network - Becky helped us raise over $3,000, including a 50% match from Usborne to purchase 300 copies of 1001 Animals to Spot for each participant in our Family Literacy Program this year! These books will give families even more opportunity to build vocabulary in a fun and exciting way before these preschoolers start kindergarten.