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Published by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation

Relationships with families seen as key to supporting early literacy

Posted: 04/17/17 9:00am CST
relationships with families seen as key to supporting early literacy
Family literacy night brought students, teachers and parents together to share knowledge as part of the research project.

For Grade 1 teachers Callie Lewry and Sharla Currie, engaging parents and other caregivers in supporting their child’s literacy development was something they as teachers felt was important. With the support of the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research Into Teaching, Lewry and Currie focused on building relationships with their students’ families by asking the families how they wanted to support their child.

Lewry and Currie started by asking why families were not participating in home literacy activities or other school events. Through a sharing of food, activities which build meaningful relationships, and asking how families wanted to participate, the teachers were able to create important opportunities to share family funds of knowledge.

Using the model of a community kitchen, families were invited into a local high school where they worked together to prepare food to take home. While it was cooking, everyone participated in activities designed to help the teachers learn about the families. Over the course of the year the families met with the teachers four times to cook, share knowledge and build community.

They believe that the preparing of food brings people together in more comfortable settings. “The preparation of food unites people across cultures,” Currie explains.

“Preparing the food together lets the caregivers be caregivers,” adds Lewry.

Through the process, Lewry and Currie learned that the families wanted to be involved in activities such as art and craft projects, parenting sessions, cooking, beading, sewing or other parent groups. However, they were not comfortable being the class helper, speaking to the class or taking part in a book club. By asking the caregivers how they wanted to be engaged, and by providing opportunities for more relaxed and comfortable interactions, relationships developed among the caregivers, the teacher and other parents or caregivers in the class.

The teachers found that many of the literacy activities they had previously developed, including reading logs, practice lists for spelling and other at-home reading exercises, did not have wide participation. By listening to the families, activities that support literacy could be developed in partnership, rather than sending home pre-set activities and expecting the families to participate.

Lewry explains, “as teachers, we tend to view school life as separate from the child’s life outside of school, when we should be viewing the whole child’s development as important pieces that go hand in hand.”

“We need to recognize caregivers as experts on their child and invite them to share their knowledge in ways that work for them,” adds Currie.

At the final session the Grade 1 students were each able to share with the families a poster that was created by the teachers, which included a photo their family had shared and talked about as part of a celebration of learning.

The students proudly highlighted their family knowledge, first with their class and then with the other families involved in the project. This displayed not only enhanced oral literacy, but also the pride they took in their own family knowledge.

For more information about this or other McDowell Foundation research projects, visit


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