National literacy campaign focuses on home National literacy campaign focuses on home
Family Literacy Day seeks to develop healthy language habits in Canadian children early, to develop skills that will pay off later in life. National literacy campaign focuses on home

Rachelle Gooden, co-chair of the Family Literacy Day Committee for the Toronto Public Library, can trace her work on Family Literacy Day to the personal bonds she has with her two children. Reading before bed, working on word puzzles, playing eye-spy, telling riddles and drawing letters on their backs to have them guess are some of the small ways Gooden develops strong language skills with her children.

Gooden’s household games are just some of the examples ABC Life Literacy Canada – a non-profit pro-literacy organization based in Toronto – has come up with for parents to engage their children in the ’15 Minutes of Fun’ theme, developed by ABC last year for Family Literacy Day, that has carried through to the 2014 Canada-wide awareness campaign. The Toronto based non profit has worked with libraries, schools, and communities to develop Family Literacy Day on Jan. 27 across Canada. Events will carry on through February and into the spring behind the ’15 Minutes of Fun’ theme.

“Research shows that it takes at least 15 minutes a day to actually improve your literacy skills,” says Heather Consentino, ABC Life Literacy Canada’s communications specialist. “So instead of making that a chore we encourage families to have a fun time with it.”

Gooden and her team encourage all Toronto library branches to come up with different ways to involve and encourage neighborhood families to read together.

Mike Warner, children and youth librarian for the Sanderson Library branch on Bathurst Street, has put together a scavenger hunt for parents and their children. With help from the library staff, the children are given a list of items to search for around the library that guides them through the bookshelves and library database to find their favourite Dr. Seuss or Robert Munsch.

“The idea for us is to try and make literacy fun,” Warner says. “They’re reading questions and answering them, which involves literacy, but in a way that doesn’t make it feel like they’re being forced to do something that seems like work, but rather an enjoyable activity.”

Promoting language skills is also an essential part of Cheryl Thornton’s role at Storyvalues Inc., which provides an interactive website that families can visit to read stories, play games based on those stories, and answer questions related to the stories.

Thornton went to Blake Street Jr. Public School in Toronto on Monday to take part in an interactive story telling program for children in kindergarten to Grade 6.

During the hour long assembly Thornton told many different folk and fairy tales to the students. During one portion, she brought up two kindergarteners to act out the story of The Lion and the Mouse, an Aesop Fable, in front of the group. She then had them retell it in front of the whole school to get them all involved in the storytelling process.

Part of the goal of Family Literacy Day, according to Consentino, is to develop habits and activities in Canadian families that will carry past just the one day, and become a regular routine at home. To that end, Thornton sent each child home with a homework assignment. They had to pick their favourite story of the day, share it with their family, listen to it on, and then play different games and puzzles based on that story to test their understanding of it.

“My stress is on oral language, and I think it’s very important for families to be talking together, and telling stories,” Thornton says. “Storytelling is bringing everyone together on the same page so they’re all enjoying literacy together, as a family. It’s a community building and family building exercise and it’s just one of those things that’s happened for thousands of years that people don’t do so much anymore today; family story telling.”

Four out of 10 Canadian adults have low-literacy-skills, not rendering them illiterate, but making reading and writing and all the jobs in Canada associated with these two basic literacy skills a challenge for them, Consentino said.

“Literacy is something that starts at home with children and parents reading together” says Consentino. “Literacy also extends beyond just reading though. We like to talk about literacy as an essential skill. Reading, writing, communications critical thinking, and working with others are all literacy skills. And so literacy impacts you throughout your life, beyond just the ability to read and write.”

Family Literacy Day events are scheduled across Canada until the beginning of March.  

**Updated Wednesday January 29, 2014 at 4:35 pm: Clarified Rachell Gooden’s involvement with ABC Life Literacy Canada and that her role is at Toronto Public Library, separate from the Toronto non-profit, and that the ’15 Minutes of Fun’ theme was crafted by ABC Life Life Literacy Canada and not the Toronto Public Library

Jake English