Bringing the Family Into Family Literacy

Posted March 2004: Dick Keis explains how literature helps parents become partners in their children's education. Artwork and poems are posted with permission. See Jim Hughes' Home Room column, "Bringing Home Into School," Essential Teacher, Spring 2004 (pp. 8-9).

Chicana author Lucha Corpi's visit to Libros y Familias, a family literacy program in Oregon, in the United States, had a dramatic impact on the parents attending. She read her children's book, Where Fireflies Dance/Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas (1997), and told the families an entertaining story about an experience in which destiny had led her to the unexpected. She then asked the parents to write about the role destiny had played in their lives. The majority of writing dealt with the families' journeys to the United States in search of a better future and with their nostalgia for their homeland and families.

"Now, We Move Forward ..."

Speaking about her departure from her home in Mexico to join her husband in Oregon, Socorro García wrote (translated here from Spanish),

It was a sad moment for me. But in the end, it was sad in one way and happy in another, because I knew my place and my children's place was at my husband's side fighting for our destiny and our future. ....

Now, we move forward, begging God for a good future for our children and all of our people, who like us, are far away from their homeland, Mexico.

She included a drawing by her son, Genaro, with the following note:

The drawing here was done by my son Genaro. It was inspired by Señora Lucha and her beautiful story, Where Fireflies Dance. Many thanks to Sra. Lucha for having come to inspire our children and us as well.

Socorro's personal account and her son's illustration of her words are typical of what occurs in Libros y Familias sessions. Using quality children's literature in Spanish (or in bilingual format) as a basis, parents talk about how the theme of the book relates to their life experiences. Parents then choose an experience to write about, which is later illustrated by their children.

Tapping Parents as Partners

Many immigrant parents, especially those who did not have an equal opportunity to be formally educated in their home countries, seldom see themselves as having anything of educational value to share with their children. Most have come, as Socorro did, to offer their children a better future in a land and culture that is not their own. They find it difficult to find their place as their child's first teacher in the U.S. educational process.

As educators, it is our responsibility to find ways of welcoming parents into the educational arena and validating their countless life experiences as worthy of inclusion in the curriculum and classroom. We must, as Moll (1992) points out, view parents as "funds of knowledge" (p. 200), who are instrumental in creating a meaningful and culturally relevant curriculum for English language learners. We need to bring student's homes into our classrooms, place their language and culture on an equal footing with the new ones, and encourage culturally and linguistically diverse families to maintain and treasure their rich cultural and linguistic heritage as they strive to adapt and succeed in their new homeland.

A Matter of the Heart

During the 10 years that Libros y Familias has been in existence, I have learned far more from the families that I work with than I have taught them. I have learned that being an educator is not a matter of formal training but a matter of heart. I have learned that parents will gladly accept a genuine invitation to participate in the educational process as respected and valued partners. And I have learned that the stories parents have to share with their children are of great educational importance not only to the children but also to their parents. This intergenerational sharing puts the true meaning of family in the term family literacy, something that is critical in working with Latino families.

A poem written by Soledad García (with the picture she drew) at one session says it best:

Familia

Unida Fuerte

Ayudando Compartiendo Estudiando

Trabajando en paz y sirviendo a los demás

Apoyando Comprendiendo Amando

Paz Respeto

Eternidad

 

Family

United Strong

Helping Sharing Studying

Working in peace and serving others

Supporting Understanding Loving

Peace Respect

Eternity

References

Corpi, L. (1997). Where fireflies dance/Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas. San Francisco: Children's Book Press.

Moll, L. (1992). Bilingual classroom studies and community analysis: Some recent trends. Educational Researcher, 21, 200-224.

Dick Keis (rbkeis@peak.org) is director of Libros y Familias, a family literacy project for the Spanish-speaking community in Independence, Oregon, in the United States.