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The Oklahoma Literacy Resource Office

Dept. of Libraries

200 NE 18th St
Oklahoma City,

(405) 522-3205
(405) 525-7804—FAX

Go to Oklahoma State Government Portal

 Literacy Fact Sheet: Family Literacy

"You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be; I had a mother who read to me."—Strickland Gillilan

What is Family Literacy

Literacy is at the root of a person’s ability to succeed, and the family is at the heart.

Family literacy is a proven intergenerational approach that improves the literacy, language and life skills of both parents and children. Parents and children learn best when they learn together. Adults and children receiving family literacy services not only strengthen their learning skills among their peers, but also come together to support and inspire each other’s educational success.

The Importance of Family Literacy

  • A mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.—National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2010
  • Children whose parents are involved with them in family literacy activities score 10 points higher on standardized reading tests. Sénéchal, 2006
  • A single year of parental education has a greater positive impact on the likelihood of a son or daughter attending a postsecondary institution than does an extra $50,000 in parental income.—Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2011
  • Children spend five times as much time outside the classroom as they do in school, so parents and caregivers must be equipped to support their learning.—Jim Trelease, 2006

Ultimately, schools, communities and the economic health of the nation are the beneficiaries of a strong family literacy initiative.

The Effects of Illiteracy

  • Low family income and a mother's lack of education are the two biggest risk factors that hamper a child's early learning and development.—National Center for Family Literacy
  • In the U.S., 30 million people over age 16, 14 % of the country's adult population, do not read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or fill out a job application.—National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)
  • 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.—NAAL
  • The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations.—NAAL
  • Adults with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $48,485 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,281; those without a high school diploma average $19,492.—U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2010 American Community Survey
  • Medication errors—many as the result of misread or misunderstood prescription labels—are the most common medical mistakes causing up to 7,000 deaths each year.—2005 White House Conference on Aging

Poverty in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Demographics from National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP)

Children who live in low-income family


Children in low-income families who do not have an employed parent


Children in low-income families whose parents do not have a high school degree


Children in low-income families that live with a single parent


The NCCP studies revealed the following facts about children in poverty:

  • Before entering kindergarten, the average cognitive scores of pre-school children in the highest socioeconomic group are 60 percent above the average scores of children in the lowest socioeconomic group.
  • At age 4 years, children who live below the poverty line are 18 months below what is normal for their age group.
  • By the time children from middle-income families with well-educated parents are in third grade, they know about 12,000 words. Third grade children from low-income families with undereducated parents who don’t talk to them very much have vocabularies of around 4,000 words.
  • Oklahoma faces many challenges educationally in breaking the cycle of poverty. Early intervention and preparing these children for a successful lifetime is critical. Early education studies report that one of the greatest factors that can predict a child’s educational success is their early literacy skills.
  • Early literacy is everything children know about reading and writing before they can read and write. The five basic early literacy skills that help to determine whether a child is ready to read are: phonological awareness, alphabetic understanding, emergent writing, vocabulary acquisition, and comprehension. Just reading aloud to children helps to build these skills and yet many parents are unable to provide books and educational resources for their children.

Solution: Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Illiteracy

The Barbara Bush Foundation cites experts who say reading to children early and often is the single most important thing parents can do to prepare them to start school ready to learn to read. Parents who lack basic literacy skills cannot experience the pleasure of reading to their children. The children, in turn, will not reap the educational benefit that being read to brings. If no one intervenes, this pattern is repeated in each new generation. Family literacy programs such as those supported by the Barbara Bush Foundation seek to break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy through innovative projects that:

  • Increase the skills and educational levels of under-educated parents
  • Provide a path to post-secondary education (the GED), employment and beyond
  • Improve the quality of parent and child interaction, and adults' parenting skills in support of their children's learning
  • Prepare children for the school experience

Recommended Resources

Organizations and Websites

National Center for Family Literacy supports family literacy service-providers through programming, training, research, advocacy, and dissemination of information.

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy

Oklahoma Adult Education and Family Literacy—programs available through the Oklahoma State Department of Education

Oklahoma Parents as Teachers (OPAT)—An education program designed to give children the best possible start in life. The program is based on the philosophy that parents are their children's first and most important teachers. It is a voluntary program for all parents with children birth to age three.

Early Birds—school readiness program that arms you with information, activities and materials to use with the young child.

PBS Kids Reading and Learning—Articles, activities and booklists for parents and children.

Wonderopolis®—A website where wonder and learning are nurtured through the power of discovery, creativity and imagination.

Center for Early Literacy Learning—resources for early childhood intervention practitioners, parents, and other caregivers of children, birth to five years of age, with identified disabilities, developmental delays, and those at-risk for poor outcomes.


Helping Your Child Become a Reader

Reading Tips for Parents

Reading Rockets–Family Guide
The bilingual Family Guide includes tips for helping children get the most out of reading as well as pointers on working with schools and teachers, ideas for using the public library, and more.

A Child Becomes a Reader: Birth to Preschool (pdf)

A Child Becomes a Reader: Kindergarten to Grade 3 (pdf)

Shining Stars: Preschoolers Get Ready to Read (pdf)

Shining Stars: Kindergarteners Learn to Read (pdf)

Shining Stars: First Graders Learn to Read (pdf)

Shining Stars: Second and Third Graders Learn to Read (pdf)

Building a Home Library

Learning to Talk and Listen (pdf)

Video Clips

Early Literacy Skills 101: The Basics


To contact staff of the Literacy Resource Office, use ODL's Staff Contact Form or Department Contact Form.


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