Getting Started

A Few Good Reasons to Start a Family Literacy Program

  1. Parents are motivated to help their children and may even state this as their reason for joining an adult literacy program.

  2. Family literacy programming helps to create a tradition of reading and learning in the family.

  3. Family literacy programming provides great opportunities for community partnerships.

  4. Parents help their children by reading to them; children help their parents practice reading by listening.

  5. Parents in family literacy programs can become more confident interacting with their children’s teachers; children whose parents are involved, do better in school.

  6. Family literacy programming provides adult literacy practitioners with a teaching challenge that is dynamic and satisfying.

  7. Children who are read to are more likely to become readers.

  8. Early childhood education has large benefits later in life.

  9. Community response to fundraising for family literacy is usually very positive.

  10. The single most significant predictor of children’s literacy is their mother’s literacy level.


Starting a Family Literacy Program

  • Are parents coming to your program with the goal of learning to read so they can help their children learn?
  • Is your program staff wondering how they can help students who are frustrated by the contact they have with their children’s school?
  • Is your Board of Directors interested in developing programs that can improve community literacy now and in the future?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might be ready to start a family literacy program. It can be a daunting task, but one that is very rewarding for your students, staff and program. To help you, we have outlined some of the things you should consider as you start the family literacy program development process.


Family Literacy Program Needs Assessment

 A good needs assessment will provide results that can be used to support fundraising efforts such as:

  • Talks to groups
  • Appeals to individual donors, United Way, service clubs or corporations
  • Letters of intent to foundations
  • Program proposals to government

A good needs assessment helps to determine:

  • The needs of your students and/or those who have not yet joined a literacy program, for family literacy programming within your larger program
  • The direction your family literacy programming should take
  • Where to focus your outreach
  • The type of family literacy program model potential participants would be most likely to take part in.

A good needs assessment helps in decision making. As an example, a wonderful family literacy programming idea has emerged at your program and there is a request to fund raise and implement the program. Here are some questions that would be answered by a focused needs assessment:

  • Is it a strong idea in terms of learning outcomes for students?
  • Would people find it interesting and take part in the program?
  • Does this program confirm your agency’s vision and mission?


There are four family literacy program models. They are: Intergenerational, Focus on Parents, Children and Parents Together, and Distribution of Family Literacy Resources. Choosing the right one will depend on many things including:

  • The expressed needs of the community
  • Available funding
  • Available space Staff expertise or potential training opportunities
  • Positive program links with the sponsoring program and its staff

Click here for more info on the types of family literacy models.

Program Components:

Adult Programming

The adult upgrading portion of family literacy programs can be developed in different ways.

1. Programs focus on basic skill development for the workforce or in a traditional adult continuing education style and add a separate family literacy component like “parent and child time together”.


2. Programs weave basic skill development with parent education.

The family literacy/basic education components below highlight the core skill areas and list sample corresponding activities or games.


  • Make, play and take Letter Bingo
  • Choose and read predictable children’s books
  • Use multiple copies of children’s books for group reading


  • Write about my family
  • Write a paragraph called My Dreams for My Child
  • Write an alphabet book for a child Speaking and Listening
  • Get to know your fellow parents; a guided chat
  • Learn about the importance of phonemic awareness
  • Role-play a parent/teacher interview


  • Use grocery flyers to create a grocery budget
  • Make and use a number line
  • Use hands, fingers and arms to measure objects


  • Make and print an alphabet book
  • Find nursery rhymes on the Internet
  • Use the Typing Tutor to develop keyboard skills

Click here to view information on funding family literacy programs.


Family literacy practitioners often have to work hard to adapt the various types of space in which they provide programming. To minimize this work, which is strenuous and time consuming, it is essential to find space that is amenable to the program being planned and, very importantly, easy to clean.

Here are some things to consider as you look for space.

Does the space have:

  • Designated childcare space and separate adult space
  • Storage for program equipment
  • Some adult program equipment such as tables and chairs
  • Some childcare equipment such as toys, child’s table and chairs
  • Accessible washrooms
  • Potable water
  • A kitchen Heating/cooling
  • A place for strollers, coats and boots
  • Some accessibility issues to consider are:
  • Is transportation within easy walking distance?
  • Is the space culturally neutral?

Outreach needs to be viewed within a new framework, and built into proposals in unique ways. It is not about a quick flyer run to promote a program. Outreach should play a more significant role in project development. Well-thought out plans are necessary for outreach to be effective. Allotted funding in a budget is also required to do outreach properly. Through more effective strategies you can: create awareness, encourage families to become involved in a number of our programs, and engage parents that have both pre-school children and low literacy skills in family and adult literacy programs. These strategies address barriers faced by parents with limited resources and/or low literacy skills. To view a current research report about outreach click here..


Evaluation is a key component to the development of quality family literacy programming. Click here to read more about evaluation.


Family literacy programs can use volunteers in many program areas. Develop clearly defined volunteer policies before starting your volunteer program and make sure to include policies that pertain to the screening of volunteers who work with children. /p>

The success of a quality volunteer program which enhances your family literacy program depends on excellent coordination of volunteers. This coordination includes creative outreach, recruitment, orientation to the program, screening, job training, job evaluation, supervision, support, scheduling, record-keeping and recognition. Volunteer coordination requires committed staff time and an organizational understanding of that need.

Community Literacy Ontario has developed Quality Standards for Literacy Volunteers, which is an excellent guide for developing your program’s volunteer policies.

These standards are available at this web address: Volunteer Standards

Here are a few other websites that may be of interest:

Canada’s Site for Information on Volunteering

Ontario Ministry of Citizenship

Community Literacy Ontario



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