Wednesday, 1 June 2011

First Steps family literacy programme

It is great to be working with children and families again this term. First Steps is a family literacy scheme that has been run by Enfield Library Service for eleven years. It is a six-week intervention programme designed to support the families of Year 1 children who are at risk of falling behind with their reading. The scheme has an impressive track record, and lots of schools apply to take part each year. All the schools chosen have low reading levels, and are in areas of significant deprivation.

The sessions take place in libraries, with fantastic assistance from library staff. Half of them involve the children and their parents and carers together, the other half are for the parents and carers alone, so that they can find ways to help their children without having to talk about problems in their presence. The emphasis throughout is on making reading fun, with lots about enjoying books together, and plenty on games and everyday activities to help children see reading as pleasurable rather than a chore. The sessions are very informal, very practical and very interactive. I am always tremendously impressed by the extent to which everyone gets involved, particularly as many of the parents and carers have very low levels of education, and few of them speak English as a first language. We always work with at least one interpreter, often with several.

This year, as usual, I am doing sessions morning and afternoon one day a week, in different libraries. All the families are lovely, and very keen. We are now three weeks into the programme, and all the parents and carers have made changes to the ways they are sharing books and reading with their children. For many, reading has become a whole family affair. Each family has spotted improvements in their children’s attitudes to reading. The children want to read more, because reading sessions are now enjoyable instead of stressful. And because the children are enjoying reading now, they are getting better at it.

I have been one of the First Steps tutors ever since the scheme started. Every year my knowledge and understanding grow, and my admiration for the amazing job parents and carers do in what are often appalling circumstances. My courses on family learning have all benefited enormously from the learning and experiences I have gained. I’m looking forward to next week’s sessions. Everyone’s going to be making books together. Should be great fun.