Creative activities for literacy
A key aim of the family literacy project was to provide practitioners and families with the space to co-produce a literacy programme. As part of the process, each of the projects developed simple, self-contained, literacy activities, which were felt to be useful at various stages in engaging the children. The following were tried and tested and may be useful if modified and applied to other settings.
Parents and children can be shown how to share books together, for example, pointing out where to start reading, tracking the words with fingers, and how to build vocabulary through questions, clues and repetition. As an introduction to the written word, parents can be introduced to hieroglyphics – this demonstrates how children see text before they can read. The participating mothers in our project loved these sessions and immediately started to use the techniques at home with their children.
Families can create their own imaginary characters using collage, painting or drawing. These can be cut out and taken on exciting journeys around their neighbourhood – this is also a good way to introduce newly arrived parents to an area. Children and parents can work together to use iPads to photograph the characters en route. Children can use the audio commentary facility to tell the story of the journey before being supported to turn part of it into text creating fantastic e-books. They can also use the art facility to enhance the story by adding their own imaginative backgrounds, props and extra characters.
Cultural story sacks and multimodal literacy
Parents can create their own ‘cultural story sacks’. Instead of filling sacks with items to represent an existing storybook, parents can gather together a range of objects to represent their own culture and traditions. The sack can be filled with as many different types of things as possible, for example photographs, music, ornaments, clothes, videos, books, toys, useful objects such as cutlery or things to represent games or hobbies. Using the contents, parents and children can work together to create stories. They can use the audio record on their phones to tell the story. School staff can then support them if they want to turn the stories into e-books by changing them into text or by interpreting them to share with other families who speak different languages. This activity also helps with cultural cohesion and engenders respect for different cultural practices and traditions.
Not everyone notices environmental print and parents sometimes need to have their attention drawn to its potential as a learning resource. When families are on journeys for work, in the car going to school or out in town doing the shopping they can find opportunities to discuss the huge amount of texts that they will come across. Everything from road signs to car registrations to shop bargain posters to menus can be used. In our projects some of the mothers realised that they were actually doing some of this already but they welcomed new techniques to exploit the learning opportunity.
Vocabulary building through field trips
Field trips are a great opportunity for parents to apply new words and phrases to real world situations with their children and to reinforce what has been learned in class sessions. Often, on these trips we see real opportunities for parents to learn from their children and children can be supported by parents and siblings. With the presence of facilitators, the use of environmental print can be scaffolded and supported to extend literacy.
In our project parents had the additional benefit of researching and planning the field trips and so needed to learn to use print materials such as flyers and information leaflets with times, places, routes, etc. They also did online research and began to understand how almost every organisation or service makes efforts to market and promote what it offers online. Since the project parents have reported being more confident and capable in organising family outings and making arrangements to engage with local services.
Baking, cake decorating and cooking traditional dishes
Part of the success of our projects was that the sessions did not begin with conventional adult literacy approaches. Instead, they began by focussing on cultural interests. In one group, the mothers selected activities such as baking, cooking and cake decorating. This offered a forum to get to know each other and to build trust within the group. Mothers were also able to gain agency as they taught the facilitators about their culture and traditions while sharing traditional Slovakian dishes. Literacy and learning opportunities gradually emerged in natural and non-threatening ways; vocabulary was built when translating recipes and going through cooking procedure. An exciting outcome from one of the sessions was the co-production of a bilingual cookbook.