January 27 was Family Literacy Day and the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD) had the opportunity to speak to Sheree Fitch, award-winning Canadian children’s author, about what the learning journey means to her.
NALD CEO Bill Stirling says reading with your children is the best head start you can give them on their own journey of learning.
“Make every day Family Literacy Day by reading books, playing board games, trying recipes, or going shopping together,” he said. “We know that kids who grow up around books in a learning environment become lifelong learners who are more able to succeed as adults.”
When it comes to engaging children and parents in family literacy activities, Halifax-based author and storyteller Sheree Fitch has a trick or two up her sleeve. She has also penned several books to make that process fun for all age levels.
Speaking to parents, Sheree says: “You are the expert. Read all the reports you can but learn by doing.”
“Read, talk, sing and count with your child from the get-go. Get a library card and go to the library. Read cereal boxes. Every moment is a teachable moment really – an opportunity to learn to navigate the world of words and numbers, and explore voice.”
Involving adult learners in learning activities takes careful planning on the part of practitioners. Sheree suggests the first step is creating a safe place for that learning to occur.
“The environment or context in which we learn is crucial,” she says. “Sometimes a classroom setting brings back bad memories so one-on-one tutoring is a wonderful alternative as are culturally sensitive programs and specialized workshops. At any rate, a place where it is okay to make mistakes and an atmosphere of non-judgment are of vital importance.”
The theme of Family Literacy Day this year is The Learning Journey and, according to Sheree, “the never ending learning curve we’re all on can be a spiral, a teeter-totter, a tight rope walk, a dance, a leap, a wobble, a shuffle, a trampoline jump.”
The learning journey is for most of us, she says, a “trip full of detours, potholes and flat tires as well as some picnics and breathtaking surprises on a long and winding road.”
“Whether you are walking, crawling, flying, roller-skating or driving in a clunky old hotrod, travel toward the horizon of your choosing with a glad heart. Remember you are on a journey that is yours and yours only. Trust yourself, reach out to others and go! Leave the baggage behind and travel light.”
When asked about learners in the digital age faced with new technology and how she thinks they will fare, Sheree says time will tell.
“I think it is a big mistake to demonize technology – we can view much of social media and the Internet as just giving us access to different media and a different set of tools. To ignore the changes taking place in our learning and even in our brains because of technology would be acting like an ostrich. I have faith it will all balance out somehow.”
Sheree’s father and mother and her first teachers got her on the right learning track when she was a child. She also credits, in particular, her Grade 2 teacher who gave Sheree and her classmates a special assignment.
“She asked us to write poems of our own. I did. She put the poem in a school fair and I saw people smile after reading my poem. Pow! I had discovered fire.”
There are many good teachers who see each student as a separate soul in their keeping, Sheree said. “Those teachers – working in our imperfect systems – are my heroes. An educational system based on learning, not remembering, is one I wish I saw everywhere.”
She is also honorary spokesperson for the Nova Scotia early literacy organization Read to Me.
Her work as a literacy educator led her to the Arctic as eight-time poet laureate for Peter Gzowski's fundraisers for literacy. She has continued to work in the North with women and children, most notably with the innovative, land-based literacy program in Nunavut called Somebody's Daughter.
More information on Sheree Fitch, her books, workshops and literacy activities is available on her blog Fitch Happens.
For more Family Literacy Day news, events and activities visit NALD’s FLD page.
Tel: 506-462-5034 or toll-free: 1-800-720-6253