These first two BOOKS programs were the testing ground for all subsequent family literacy programs at Prospects. Carried out over consecutive periods of eight weeks, different sessions were observed by a researcher. Individual and group interviews provided other evaluative material. The women who participated were very enthusiastic about the literacy experiences they had in the program. This reading club is the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldnt miss a session for the world, noted one woman. Another commented, Now I know why reading books to kids is so important. I have learned so much. I just loved the books and so did my kids.
Each of the participants wrote a personal story about the birth of a child, an early life experience or, in one case, the death of a close friend. These writings were shared and treasured. Loris photographic essay, addressed to her son through the voice of her murdered friend, has been shown at national and international conferences. A written portrait of two participants was published in an Australian educational journal. In short, this first program generated great enthusiasm within Prospects for the power of family literacy as a medium for enhancing the literacy abilities of at risk adults and their families.
Over the next two years, the BOOKS program expanded. A variety of small grants supported the expansion. A total of six different community groups such as Head Start programs and community development projects were involved in providing space, participants and even refreshments for the program. Approximately 50 families participated. Evaluative comments about the program continued to be very positive. Agency personnel noted that their parent clients told of reading more frequently to their children; another agency commented that parental confidence skills were improving. Participants said that they noticed a difference in their own reading, or that their children were becoming intrigued with books. The words of one woman reminded organizers once again of the influence of the BOOKS program when she commented, The program motivates me to read. Im reading a book for the first time in eight years.
During these years, Prospects continued to explore the possibility of offering other family literacy programs through searching literature on the subject and attending a range of family literacy sessions both in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada. The Parent-Child Mother Goose program was receiving very strong reviews in Toronto. Under the leadership of Merle Harris, Rhymes That Bind was adapted from the Mother Goose model and became a popular program offering. Was a Learning and Reading Partners program a feasible family literacy program for parents of school age children? Would a Books for Babies program be a worthwhile addition? Other questions addressed greater community involvement. We considered the possibility of engaging university students meaningfully in community literacy projects as part of course requirements. Prospects began to liaise with health, social, and educational agencies to explore collaboration. Although at times overwhelmed by the possibilities of developing a range of family literacy programs, any actions taken would have to be tempered by what was practical and financially feasible.
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