How To Create & Grow Your Family Literacy Circle (The Overview)

The journey is the reward. ~ a Taoist saying

The idea of the Family Literacy Circle series was conceived in love: love of children, love of family, love of learning, love of teaching.  Families created with care, grown with communication, and strengthened with cooperation can influence tomorrow’s generations. Series outline of creating & growing the family literacy circle

Every family on the planet has within its history, stories of heartache and tragedy. Many families have overcome incredible, and seemingly unbeatable  hardships to enrich the lives of others. 

All families are blessed with a gift. That gift is a promise in the form of new lives joined together as “a force to be reckoned with”. Whether destructible or indestructible, the power of family has always been a defining element of every culture in the world.

Literacy within the family is one of the greatest gifts we, not only, give to our children, but also, contribute to our society.

So, What Is Literacy? Isn’t That A “School” Thing?

Speaking of school, the “old school” definition of literacy is the mastery of the 3 Rs: readin’, ‘ritin’ & ‘rithmetic. Not that there is anything ‘rong with that…

Our modern world gives literacy a larger, and I feel, more accurate definition. In fact UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization) describes literacy as

“the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy also involves a continuum of learning, enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge & potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

Every culture has its important symbols identified through language, numbers and images. Learning, understanding, and teaching each other these elements , especially our children, protects their future and their children’s future.

And A Family Literacy Circle Is……?

As parents, we are our child(ren)’s first teachers – a VERY powerful,  commanding, and, yes, demanding position. We teach them through directed listening (us & them) and thinking activities. And we don’t need a college degree to be successful and very effective.

caring family unit
Family Trio Embrace – 1Anna1

In a nurturing environment filled with lots of talking, singing and interacting, Family Literacy can happen while working and playing together:

  • during daily routines of living together: eating, chores, errands
  • when sharing ideas, following/giving directions, planning
  • through storytelling, reading, drawing, building, playing, exploring
  • while attending cultural & community events: school, clubs, church, museums, parks, fairs, aquariums, zoos, learning centers, etc
  • during family gatherings, vacations, celebrations, meetings
  • when discussing problems, opinions, opportunities, changes

Can You Give Us An Actual Example?

Using McIssac, Estey & Rendell’s 1999 model “Process of Thinking & Language Development Connection” from Learning Begins, cited in Shelagh Simpson’s Early Bird: Beginnings in Reading Development , shows parents  how powerful everyday,  interactive language with their children can be.


Process of Thinking & Language Development Connection

Observewatching parent model how to set the table
Labellearning names of eating tools
Sequence in Ordersetting things on the table
Categorizethings we eat with
Recognize Patternsplace setting form a repeated pattern
Predictif we set out bowls, we must be having soup

Try filling in this blank table for doing the laundry:

Process of Thinking & Language Development Connection (Fill In)

Sequence in Order
Recognize Patterns

Here are my ideas:

  • observe-watching parents gather dirty clothes from hampers & bring to a washer/dryer area (or a laundromat)
  • label-sorting the clothes into lights, darks, colors, whites
  • sequence-turning on washer’s water, pouring in soap, putting in the clothes, closing the lid
  • categorize-things we need to have for clean clothes, linens, etc.
  • patterns- load after load
  • predict-if we go to the hampers…..

How did you do?

When Does A Family Literacy Circle Begin?

Baby Steps-Drew Hays
Baby Steps-Drew Hays

When making a house into a home, consider the differences between the two: A house is a structure anchored by the support of beams, wood, and concrete, existing without inhabitants. A home is a house transformed into a shelter by the support of acceptance, encouragement, and harmony, co-existing within its inhabitants.  ~BLB

Celebrate your home life environment as your child’s first “classroom & playground”.

To quote Rahima Dancy from her book, You Are Your Child’s First Teacher :

No matter what our family situation or lifestyle, we as parents are our children’s first teachers.

Dancy defines her “4 Levels of Home Life as a work in progress” with the following image (which I enhanced because it was fun):

Rahima Dancy's 4 Levels of Home Life

How Is Your Home Health?

Ms. Dancy included lots of parent questions per level. In addition to some I added, here are a few for you to ponder:

Physical Level

  • What do you see when you enter your home?
  • Where is the center/ focus of your home? Are you missing one?
  • Where do your children spend most of their time?
  • Do you have a “nook” just for you?
  • What is the relationship between the inside and the outside of your home?
  • Is there an area of your home you’d like to change? Why?

Rhythmical Level (Home Life Activities)

  • Daily-Let’s Eat: usual time? together at the table? everyone helps? beginning/ending?
  • Daily-To Bed & Sleep: nighttime routines? morning rituals?
  • Weekly- certain day of the week activity? weekends vs weekdays? special weekend activities?
  • Yearly-seasonal celebrations? holiday traditions? birthdays? special occasions?

Emotional / Relational Level

  • Do you and your partner make time for just the two of you?
  • As a single parent. who is part of your support system?
  • Do you maintain friendships outside of your partner?
  • What is your parenting style? “My way or the highway?” “Live and let live?” a little of both, depending on the safety and accountability of the situation?
  • Have you and your partner discussed parenting? Agree on? Disagree on?
  • How does “work” affect your home life?
  • Who maintains the inner-home? You alone? You and your partner? The entire family cooperates and contributes?
  • School life connections? Teachers? Values? Education?
  • Social connections? Relatives? Friends? Need more /less of both?

Spiritual or Values Level

  • Is family life part of your hopes and dreams scenario?
  • What values do you have to help guide your life choices?
  • What do your children see you doing?
  • Are you giving your children “your” childhood or a different one?
  • Do you need some help making some changes to your parenting approach?
  • Is a traditional religion important to you and your family?
  • How do you answer your children’s questions about the “spiritual” nature of the universe (they will be asking)?
  • What are the “must haves, must learn & must dos”you wish your children to know?
  • How will you help your children grow into happy, independent, responsible adults?

Yes, It Begins with Your Pregnancy!

Whether your parenthood is planned or a SURPRISE!!!, taking care of each other during pregnancy is a major step for beginning the Family Literacy Circle. Your physical, mental and emotional well-being transfer constantly to your in utero swimmer. You need to be thinking about your next snack, foot-rub and nature walk. More on that in Part Two of this series.

Once baby is born, whew, thinking is not as high on your list (if at all) as is the bonding, murmuring, feeding, burping, changing, bathing,  rocking, and, please oh please,  sleeping. THEN- repeat and repeat and repeat for the first few, yes, months.

How Do We Grow Our Family Literacy Circle?


You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. ~Winnie the Pooh

One of the most important things you can do for you and your family is to form partnerships with the other caring adults who are involved in your child(ren)’s life. They, not only, give you insights into your child(ren) behavior within different environments, they, also, give you and your partner some much-needed down time.

In his book, Nurture the Nature, Dr. Gurian includes an extensive list on the “alliances” you can create:

  • Nuclear & Blended Families: do not force connections with step-parents or others in blended families who do not care deeply about your child’s “core nature”
  • Extended Family: (blood or adoptive) constant connections  with grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, etc
  • Parent Coaches: therapists, school counselors, clergy, older friends
  • Teachers
  • Mentors: tutors & others who engage with your child(ren) in major interests, such as the arts, athletics, animals, space, etc
  • Community Spiritual & Religious Members : can provide values affirmation, sense of reverence & a pool of parents beyond you and your partner

Flying Solo?

Here are a few more places to meet other soloists and/or parents:

  • Mother & Infant groups
  • Playgroups
  • Your local library’s Storytime
  • Other parents in the park
  • Bulletin Boards at Natural Food Co-ops

Is Our Newborn Part of the Family Literacy Circle?

EVERY day is bursting with opportunities to grow your Family Literacy Circle. From 0-12 months,  your baby’s main focus  is how to master the physical world through the 5 senses (hear, see, touch, taste & smell) and with arms, hands, legs, and feet (and mouth…).

Even though it seems all your baby does involves grabbing, holding, chewing (drooling), pushing, pulling, rolling, crawling, standing & walking (and, hopefully, not running,yet…), your voice is a critical part of growing your Family’s Literacy Circle.

Hear those “baby babblings”? They are imitative “Literacy” sounds your baby is making come from:

  • listening to loved ones voices talking , singing, rhyming
  • watching & listening to loved ones read anything (at this stage of development)-even the Wall Street Journal or The Theory of Relativity, though Mother Goose may be more engaging
  • trying to talk with you while you explain your household chores and/or errands
  • talking with you while changing, dressing, feeding, and/or bathing your baby 

The first BIG steps to growing Your Family’s Literacy Circle are made with oral language. “Baby Talk”, though irresistible, is really not goo-goo good for helping your baby develop early Literacy skills. However,  repeating sounds your baby is making can encourage language as well as bring a confident smile or giggle.

Does The Family Literacy Circle Continue When Our Children Start Attending School?

Family of Five-DamDa
Family of Five-DamDa

Once your child enters school, regardless of what “type” it is, your job within the Family Literacy Circle does morph into another role. You may, no, will hear “that’s not what my teacher says” or “that’s not how I learned it in school” and/or even….. “you don’t know how we do it in class”.

Smile through your stinging tears and remember HOW your child(ren)  got  into Kindergarten, First Grade, etc. Believe me- even the brightest student will continue to NEED the Family Literacy Circle as an important part of learning, sharing and growing.

As a parent and educator, I can tell you the most successful students, especially at the elementary level, have involved and engaged parents. At some point, every student -bright, average or challenged- needs the support of the parent-teacher team.

How Do Our School-Aged Children Stay within The Family Literacy Circle?

Here are some effective and NECESSARY things parents in The Family Literacy Circle  can do:

  • Get to know your child’s school and its teachers- classroom & specials, librarian, counselor, administrators, assistants, nurse
  • Make sure someone, who is involved in your child’s life, attends conferences, meetings, and other school events, especially if you child is performing in some way or receiving special recognition
  • Volunteer at school if you can
  • Hold your child accountable for school responsibilities
  • Let your child know the work done at school is an important AND necessary job to complete for a successful future
  • Help your child understand puzzling school concepts or find out how to help if you don’t grasp the way it is being taught
  • Keep a supply of materials and tools needed for schoolwork completion at home and/or at school
  • Continue to enrich you child’s learning with “field trips” especially if they are related to what is being studied at school
  • Encourage your child to “stretch outside her/his comfort zone”- whatever/wherever it is
  • Keep reading and writing with your child in non-academic ways, like evening chapter book reads & interactive journals

Remember, your child will ALWAYS need your assurance and support.

Even in High School?!

When my son was a senior in high school, every day I asked him if there was something I needed to see and/or sign. Didn’t get much of an answer, so…..

 If I wanted to know about upcoming events, I went on the school’s website to check out the schedule every teen was reluctant to share with parents for fear they would be in the same space (besides at mealtime).

I attended college prep meetings and teacher conferences.

The Family Literacy Circle, once created and grown, will always be part of your family’s experiences and lives together. Isn’t that right, Grandparents?!?!

Where Can We Find Resources To Help Us?

At the Sea's Horizon-Natalya Zaritskaya
At the Sea’s Horizon-Natalya Zaritskaya

Although I am a parent (of now a grown man) and an elementary/special education teacher with decades of experience in my field, I felt it necessary to accumulate some additional, contemporary knowledge to share with you on this Family Literacy Circle journey.

Resources on BLB’s site contains several different lists I hope you find useful & helpful. Click on these links:

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