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National Family Literacy Month: Time to Bring Back Reading as a Family

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'READ' photo (c) 2008, Karin Dalziel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For many of us self-professed book geeks, nothing beats curling up with a book and exploring the wild, infinite confines of worlds both real and imagined. And for many of us, that love for the written word started in childhood, in the stories our parents would read to us, long before studies and statistics proved it to be so valuable. Sadly, it seems that with the complications of modern life, reading as a family is giving way to a culture of over-busy, hyper-connected non-readers.

This November, the celebration of National Family Literacy Month brings about a great opportunity for everyone to get back into the beautiful tradition of reading as a family. A host of schools, libraries, and other literacy organizations, including North Carolina's third largest school district, Guilford County Schools (GCS), and the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), are hosting special activities and events that showcase the importance of family literacy programs throughout the month.

One of the activities hosted by GCS, which started at the beginning of 2012, is the Three Million Books Challenge, an impressive reading challenge led by Superintendent Maurice Green of Greensboro, N.C. Guided by the belief that "life opens up, and dreams become possible when you learn to read, and read well," Mr. Green reports of the participation of thousands of students in their district-wide campaign. "That's the message we want our students to hear. That's why I challenged them to read first one million, and then two million, and now three million books in one year's time." Last year, GCS students were challenged to read two million books and shattered that goal by more than 600,000!

The campaign has received widespread support from businesses, nonprofits and local government in which organizations across Guilford County encourage students to read, including the local PTA. Kelly Langston, a Guilford County Schools' parent and Guilford County Council of PTAs President, knows first-hand how hard it can be to get parents involved in this kind of initiative. "Today's family struggles to find time to spend time together due to busy schedules, so reading together is a great family activity and it helps your children be successful in school," she says. "Guilford County Schools' Three Million Books Challenge provides families with an opportunity to be part of something bigger."

Juana Plazola, a Guilford County Schools' parent, thinks that the program is a great way to get involved with your children's reading time. "A good book can teach you and your children about things beyond your daily horizons and can create characters so vivid you feel as if you know them. By modeling good reading habits, you can show the importance and value of strong reading skills." Atim Idika, an immigrant from Africa whose children attend school in Guilford County, echoes the sentiments of Plazola as she says, "Just as healthy food is essential to your body, regular reading with your children is the key to a good education and a better life. For my family, reading is an integral part of our daily routine and its benefits are best illustrated in my twin girls' good grades and love of learning. "

Just as reading books as a family can help develop a child's imaginative faculties and increase their knowledge of the world in general, having a strong force of committed educators can add a powerful interdisciplinary component to a child's education. This is the dimension that NCFL hopes to bring with their Litera-Seeds mini-grants program, organized in partnership with Toyota. The mini-grants are designed to help fund classroom projects that encourage parent engagement. The Toyota Teacher of the Year Awards will provide a $20,000 grant to the winning teacher's program and provide a free trip to the 2013 National Conference on Family Literacy.

Beyond the Litera-Seeds program, NCFL also has a whole site filled with interesting bilingual resources for parents who'd like to incorporate reading into their family's schedule, complete with fun games and reading-oriented activities. Wonderopolis -- named by Time magazine as one of the top websites of 2011 -- is NCFL's online community dedicated to family learning, with activities that help parents infuse learning into their everyday lives.

NCFL's multigenerational approach is based on the belief that when parents and children "form a learning partnership," that leads to educational and economic progress. Research bears this out -- with children whose parents are involved with them in family literacy activities averaging 10 points higher on standardized reading tests, according to NCFL.

"By engaging multiple generations, learning is taken beyond the classroom and becomes part of families' everyday lives," says Emily Kirkpatrick, Vice President of the National Family for Family Literacy. "This leads to greater achievements and builds momentum for lifelong learning as it helps to develop real-world skills for people trying to better their lives and communities."

As I have written before, I'm a firm believer that the challenges the educational system faces can best be addressed through the collaboration of educators, parents, industry partners and mentors and policymakers. It is truly inspiring to see initiatives that use a holistic integrative approach in feeding young minds' natural curiosity by pointing them to the new worlds, places and ideas that books hold between their covers.

How are you planning to celebrate National Family Literacy month? Any other reading resources/initiatives I may have missed? Let me know in the comments!