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Celebrating the Importance of Literacy During Challenging Times

Recognizing Literacy Day on January 27, 2021, as well as Literacy Week January 24-30, 2021, is an opportunity to celebrate the many staff and volunteers who are dedicated to providing innovative literacy programs all across Saskatchewan.

Many of the literacy initiatives have overcome barriers posed by the pandemic and, with modifications, were able to continue supporting children and families.

Family Literacy Fun

In response to requests from citizens advocating for literacy programming in Prince Albert, the Family Literacy Coordinator position was established by the Prince Albert Literacy Network (PALN) in 1998. Since then, PALN has been supporting literacy for families by providing training, tutors, programming and other resources.

Jasmine Thorpe turns herself into a crayon
Jasmine Thorpe turns herself into a crayon

PALN approach each program, event or project with a strong belief that parents or caregivers are the child's first teacher, and their role is to support families as they learn and grow together.

PALN also watches over one of the largest lending libraries of Storysacks in Canada. A Storysack is a fun resource that encourages parents/caregivers and children to read together in an interactive way. Storysacks contain a children's book along with props, puppets or stuffed animals for acting out the story, and a non-fiction book with an idea card with activities to do together at home.

Current Family Literacy Coordinator, Kara Thorpe, says she has strong evidence that the programs offered by PALN benefit local families because she sees it making a difference in the lives of her own child. Like many other children, her daughter Jasmine accessed the lending library and received four books a week for four weeks, activities included. One particular activity piqued her interest. The activity card asked her to see how many different things she could become using a simple cardboard box. Endless fun was had!

A Community Effort

As coordinator for the Moose Jaw Literacy Network, Christine Boyczuk is another literacy advocate who’s on the front lines of providing a wide variety of inclusive literacy programs that assist readers of all ages, from young children entering early years programming, to seniors who require assistance staying connected.

Continuing these programs during the pandemic was especially challenging this year, but that didn't deter Boyczuk. When choices had to be made where to host literacy events while keeping everyone safe, she reached out to the community.

Mother and Son Reading Together
Mother and son reading together

“The partnerships we achieved have really benefitted us during COVID,” Boyczuk says. “In fact, I would say that working with community groups to provide these important resources was really a highlight for me.”

One of the big challenges was to maintain their popular summer reading program, a critical resource for kids who normally don’t have access to books outside of the school year. Since they couldn't use the school over the summer, the community once again stepped up by joining in the search for a new location.

The program was modified and conducted to enable people in Moose Jaw and the rural area to participate online. The participants had a great time and the facilitators, children and their parents/caregivers were very happy with the outcome.

“It was so wonderful to see how well everyone adapted, especially the kids,” Boyczuk noted. “At a time when everyone had been isolating, both the parents and the teachers were so grateful to have that interactive time with their kids. We all adjusted really well to the new reality.”

Promoting Fransaskois Culture

The Collège Mathieu family literacy program is for all Francophone communities in Saskatchewan and is intended to promote Fransaskois culture. It is available to Fransaskois, Francophile, mixed and newcomers families who want to pass on the French language to their children and preserve its use in daily life.

Coordinator Mamady Camara says the goal of the program is to help families who want to keep the French language as part of their daily lives. He points out that “often an Anglophone is married to a Francophone and they want their children to speak both languages, or sometimes English-speaking parents just want their children to learn French.”

The aim of this literacy program is to help young children develop a variety of skills, including: using French expressions, learning about Fransaskois culture, reading in French, speaking and working in French while having fun, conversing in French, and learning to socialize and express themselves in French.

“It’s very common for parents to start their kids in our program, and as they get more and more excited about the French language, they actually prefer Francophone daycare, and want to continue into French primary school and often they will go on to attend a Francophone education school in Saskatchewan,” says Camara.

Supporting New Parents

The Lloydminster Learning Council Association (LLCA) serves Lloydminster and area. They provide literacy programs to a population of over 50,000 people. LLCA promotes lifelong learning opportunities to enhance the quality of life and encourage building community services for underrepresented populations in order to create a stronger community.

Tracey Earl-Wolfe facilitates a number of programs for the LLCA, such as Books for Babies and Fun with Numbers - a program she developed. During the past year, she was struck by the unique challenges faced by parents with newborns.

“Our program is basically for parents with kids under the age of one, which means the children were born after the pandemic started,” says Earl-Wolfe.

LLCA Early Years classes adapted quickly to meet the needs of their clients during the pandemic by moving online. Due to the social distancing restrictions, parents/caregivers have found their classes to be invaluable for their mental health and well-being due to social isolation and disconnection from society. Earl-Wolf quickly found that, beyond providing reading and math skills, the Zoom classes provided families with something else they needed: human contact.

Tracey Earl-Wolfe Facilitates an Online Literacy Class
Tracey Earl-Wolfe facilitates an online literacy class

“When you have your first child during COVID and nobody is allowed to come visit you, and then you take your newborn home but are afraid to take a walk to the store, you don’t get adult interaction and parents were feeling isolated and alone,” says Earl-Wolfe.

She found that both parents and their children were thrilled with the lessons. “Imagine that in the first year of your baby’s life, their only contact with people outside your immediate family is on an iPad.”

According to Earl-Wolfe, parents would frequently log into their Zoom sessions early so they could share stories and give each other advice. Many of the relationships that were formed online continued after the programs ended.

“These programs have been so important this past year, even if it was just so people could have contact,” she says optimistically. “One way or another, we find each other.”

These are just a few of the many literacy programs available to Saskatchewan citizens. The Government of Saskatchewan continues to recognize these valuable family literacy and learning programs as keys to employment, higher wages, better social and health outcomes, and active participation in society.

Find a family literacy program in your region.

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