Family Story Time Draws Newcomers to Reading

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Quesnel's Literacy Outreach Coordinator Rebecca Beuschel readily admits she has no shame when it comes to roping people into reading, singing, and story-telling at regular Family Story Time events sponsored by 2010 Legacies Now.

"I accost everybody!" says Beuschel, with a chuckle.

But it soon becomes clear she's only half-joking. One year ago, a trip to the local garage to have her winter tires installed gave her a chance to chat with a man who hailed from Madagascar. He told her about story-telling traditions there. In the time it took to swap the tires, he was booked to make an appearance.

She also mentions drafting a local children's author, and a music teacher to bring his guitar and sing. Apparently none of her neighbours is safe. Sometimes the events take the form of Family Game Nights, teaching card and board games, and those with arts and crafts skills are recruited to teach families how to make their own games.

"The kids-ages about 2 to 8-don't know they're learning literacy skills; they're just having fun," Beuschel says, with a slight accent that betrays her Australian origins. "But we're also showing the parents that you can do things like this with your children and it costs almost nothing. We're hoping that they absorb the techniques."

One of the toughest problems in fighting illiteracy, according to Beuschel, is that it is often hereditary in the sense that parents teach functional illiteracy to their children. They don't read to them, or encourage them to draw, write or create. Illiteracy often goes hand-in-hand with poverty too, so parents with limited reading skills frequently lack the money to supply their children with books, crayons and paper. For non-readers, libraries can be intimidating so they don't know about the wealth of free services beyond the books.

Beuschel says that Family Story Time may be the first time these families have seen the inside of a library. And for their children, it may well be the first time they've played with crayons, had paper to waste, or a book to call their own.

"A kindergarten teacher told me she had a student who had never held a pencil and couldn't draw an O," Beuschel recalls. "Parents sometimes discourage literacy if they can't afford to supply the tools-they just hope the schools will encourage their children to read."

The evenings attract a range of participants, but Beuschel says the food is crucial in attracting low-income families. Although the increasing levels of participation seem to be due to the fun.

"Some parents complain their kids are 'dragging them' to the event. We're even starting to get some dads coming; it used to be mostly moms."

Barbara Blaise, a local author, is one of the volunteer performers Beuschel pressed into service, but she says she'd happily do it again. She read from her book Little Wally and the Skunk Family and donated copies as prizes.

"I come from a family of story-tellers and I love reading to children," says Blaise, the mother of two adult daughters, who also runs a daycare. "I think it is so important to get kids fired up about reading and making up their own stories instead of sitting in front of a computer."

Literacy Now Communities guides communities through a planning process to identify and address local literacy needs. The program is supported by the Province of British Columbia.