Family Literacy Program

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 Does it Mean to Volunteer at Words Alive? (Part 2)

By Jennifer Van Pelt

This article is part of a series in which we highlight and celebrate stories from our volunteers, and explore what it means to volunteer at Words Alive. Read Part 1 here.

Our volunteers and donors at Words Alive enable us to serve over 5,000 students and families every year, and we would truly be unable to work towards our goal of inspiring a commitment to reading throughout San Diego County without all of their support. These volunteers are not only able to connect with students and exceed expectations when teaching in the classroom, but they are also passionate about the difference they make in student’s lives! They eagerly come back week after week because they enjoy working with children and they are able to see the inspiration they incite and change they make in the future of the children and their families. Read below for some first hand stories as to why our volunteers love being a part of our Words Alive family!

An image of Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Intern, with Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Intern, with Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Support Intern, said: “It is extremely gratifying knowing that I’m working with a cause that helps others discover and foster a love of reading. The impact Words Alive has is especially visible when attending the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony and hearing the heartfelt stories of students improving their literacy skills and their futures.”

Many of our volunteers get involved with Words Alive as a way to continue their love for teaching or get involved in a career they perhaps weren’t able to pursue previously. Karen Malin, a Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, said: “My volunteer work with Words Alive gives me the opportunity to tap into my varied experience acquired from 40 years in education. Whether writing curriculum, working with preschool parents, sharing the message of the importance of early literacy or reading with first graders (my favorite!) I am excited to be making a difference in the lives of children and families. Volunteering with Words Alive is energizing, fulfilling and a lot of fun!”

An image of Karen Malin, Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, accepting an award at Councilmember Lorie Zapf's Volunteer Appreciation Day.

An image of Karen Malin, Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, accepting an award at Councilmember Lorie Zapf's Volunteer Appreciation Day.

Julie Adams, a Words Alive Read Aloud Program volunteer is a retired speech/language pathologist. Part of her work included the encouragement of reading and discussing books as a family so vocabulary, language comprehension, and oral communication could improve. In retirement, she still strongly supports this development of pre-literacy and literacy skills by volunteering with Words Alive. She said, “I like to think that sharing a love of books with young children (and their teachers and parents) will be a kind of contagious act, infecting the receptive eyes, ears and minds of the listeners with a bug to read another good book...It’s exciting to see delight in the reaction of kids who suddenly figure out the meaning of an author’s “play with words”, or are able to point to and count words in a title, or notice an illustrator’s clue about what’s coming next, or share an emotion of a book character they like. Though it doesn’t happen with every book, it’s definitely reinforcing to me as a reader when kids spontaneously clap as the book ends and there is a clamor from the children to “read it again.” Why do I continue to volunteer with Words Alive? I hope I’m helping kids develop some of the very basic early literacy skills that will give them succeed as they move to formal reading instruction in school, and just as importantly, helping them develop a life-long love of books and reading.”

Petra Bauer-Ryan, an Adolescent Book Group Volunteer, has said, “I could not think of a more worthy cause. Sharing my passion for books and love for reading with these young minds and seeing them challenging themselves and growing is more rewarding and inspiring than I could put into words.”

These are just a few stories about the rewarding and inspiring experiences that our volunteers are able to enjoy every week with our students and families. As an organization with over 550 volunteers, there are countless more experiences to be shared by existing volunteers and even more to come from future volunteers! Whether you are a book-lover or enjoy teaching others, there are several different ways to bring your passion into the classroom. To get involved in supporting our mission of improving literacy in San Diego, visit our page here to review the opportunities and create a story of your own!

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.



The Gift of Reading

Literacy is the foundation of our success. It allows us to learn, to teach, and to make change in the community. Our three programs tackle literacy issues among children, teens, and families, each with the shared goal of creating life-long learners. Establishing a commitment to reading gives individuals the confidence to change their communities and take charge of their life.

Our programs inspire a commitment to literacy early in life so children and teens do not remain illiterate into their adult lives. Our Read Aloud Program sends trained volunteers into elementary classrooms and engages children with stories. Teen Services ensures young adults have a space to discuss novels and can pursue higher education with our Westreich Scholarship Program. The Family Literacy Program empowers parents to make reading a priority in their home and teaches effective methods of doing so. Each of our programs aims to prevent illiteracy later in life by engaging children, teens, and families with reading early on in their development.

Words Alive is proud to offer these programs that empower participants in all stages of life. In order for us to continue giving the gift of reading, we need your generosity and support. This holiday season, when reading a card, your favorite novel, or this blog post, be thankful for the opportunities you had to become a developed reader. Help Words Alive create this same experience for others in San Diego by making a donation. Your generosity will help advocate for literacy and allow us to give the gift that keeps on giving. 

Literacy is important; it is the foundation of success in our society, and Words Alive strives to ensure we all have the same opportunities to achieve our goals.

Investing In Early Childhood Development

Words Alive is working alongside some great organizations to support early education in San Diego, such as the Education Synergy Alliance P-3 Salon and the Diamond Education Excellence Partnership. Words Alive brings our expertise in early literacy to the table offering Family Literacy programming as part of community solutions. Early childhood education lays the groundwork for success in Elementary School and beyond.

“A critical time to shape productivity is from birth to age five, when the brain develops rapidly to build the foundation of cognitive and character skills necessary for success in school, health, career and life.” 

Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics and expert in economics of human development, argues that

it also pays to invest in a child’s early years.  The Heckman Equation shows for every dollar invested in early childhood education there is a “7%-10% per year return, based on increased school and career achievement as well as reduced costs in remedial education, healthy and criminal justice expenditures” for early childhood education.

During a recent visit to Dewey Child Development Center to join the celebration of families graduating from the Words Alive Family Literacy Program, I was struck by the story of a mother’s resilience and the role she felt Words Alive played in helping to empower her to be her child’s first and most important teacher. Maria has 2 children, Max age 4 and Camila, age 7. Maria shared that growing up and attending school in Mexico, reading was a challenge because she did not have books or the support that she needed to make reading accessible; “My parents never read to me, my mother never came to my school.” Asking what influence the program had on reading habits with her children, she continued “one of the most important things I learned is that reading isn’t just about the words on the pages, it is about colors, the pictures, rhyming, and the themes in the book." Maria said that both of her children are more engaged in reading now because she knows how to make it a fun part of their routine.

FLP Graduates Marie and Max

Maria and her children were just one of seventy families graduating from the 7-week Family Literacy program in March armed with new knowledge, a kindergarten readiness tool kit, and a commitment to continue to make reading matter for their children.

Programs like Family Literacy and the wide variety of early childhood programs throughout San Diego will give these families and children a level playing field, a better start to their school career, and an increased opportunity for high school graduation – all of which will lead to a boost in our economy. By one projection,

“A 5% increase in male high school graduation rates is estimated to save California $753 million in annual incarceration costs and crime-related expenditures. If that same 5% not only graduated but went on to college at the same rate as typical male high school graduates, their average earnings would accrue an additional $352 million annually.”

If a collaborative effort is made to provide access and empower families with young children we at Words Alive and other organizations working together can make a huge impact on our community. At Words Alive we believe that Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive.