The data is in, and we see across the nation that fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores were lower than in previous years. A recent study (NAEP, 2022) reported that the average reading score for fourth graders “was lower than all previous assessment years going back to 2005,” and the average reading score for eighth graders “was lower compared to all previous assessment years going back to 1998.” As a parent of a high-achieving child in kindergarten and as a former elementary teacher, I’ve seen that the key to increasing literacy is partnering with families and caregivers to reinforce literacy at home. A child needs a caregiver to consistently read to them or encourage them to read. Families who engage in meaningful literacy activities and experiences at home also develop tight bonds. They communicate, discover, and learn together. Families want to support their children’s reading development, but may not be equipped with the most effective tools, resources, strategies, and training. An effective way for schools to encourage families to engage in meaningful literacy experiences with their children is to regularly host family literacy events, including family workshops. In this post, I’ll define what family workshops are and provide some tips to incentivize and encourage all family members to attend. 


What are family workshops?

Family workshops and family literacy events bring families, administrators, and educators together from the school community with a focus on demonstrating and providing information on a research-based literacy strategy. At these events, families are actively engaged in the literacy strategy that they could deploy at home, and they leave with fun resources, prizes, or swag that encourage reading and writing at home. Families should leave a workshop feeling confident and prepared to implement the literacy strategy when reading with their children at home. 

Further ways to motivate families to engage in high-quality home reading and writing experiences include giving away books, posters, bookmarks, board games, or flashcards used in the workshop. Also, be sure to provide a handout or flier with information about the focused strategy, and provide translated copies in the languages primarily spoken at the school. 


Encourage all family members to attend

Make sure to invite entire families to participate in the workshop so that you can identify key family members who can commit to reading at home with the child and employ the strategies demonstrated in the workshops. In many families, grandparents and older siblings spend a lot of time with young learners. The goal is to empower any caregiver with tools, materials, and coaching that enable them to deliver high-quality home reading experiences with their children. 


Plan engaging and fun literacy events

Make sure the events you hold are fun and engaging for all who attend. A popular event is hosting a read-aloud to model strategies that any family member or child can practice at home. For example, you might have a teacher dress up as a book character to conduct a read-aloud, and model strategies such as encouraging children to make predictions about the story, participate nonverbally (clapping, pointing, or nodding), share what they see in the pictures, or answer questions. Other ideas include inviting local authors to read their books aloud, asking for family volunteers to read a book in their native language or a book they loved as a child, or bringing in local heroes to read a book based on their profession. For example, a fire chief could read a book with a fire station, or a zookeeper could read a book about animals. 

Family workshops can also involve literacy games, reading in the dark with flashlights, reading to animals from shelters, creating rhymes together, making finger puppets to retell popular fairy tales, or sing-alongs. As long as the event is engaging and involves children and their families in a research-based strategy they can experience at home, the literacy event will be a success. 


Make family workshops accessible

There are many ways to make family workshops accessible as possible. You can host virtual family literacy nights (or offer a virtual option for live events). You can also survey your families and identify a time when the greatest number of people can attend. Most family workshops are hosted once a month on a weeknight. Depending on families’ availability, a breakfast or lunchtime event might work better. Some schools even host coffee chats. Make sure to post a recap on the school communication app after all events that include a video summary of the strategies covered and a link to important resources, handouts, or fliers.   

If you’re struggling with attendance issues, schools can also partner with family engagement experts like Springboard Collaborative. They coach schools to host weekly family literacy workshops, which average 88% attendance. Springboard combines reading instruction for Pre-K through third grade with training for  families to coach reading at home using a method called Family-Educator Learning Accelerators (or FELAs). Springboard’s district partners are generating 3 months of reading gains for participating students.

By implementing these strategies, schools can help families become more confident in their ability to support their child’s reading development. By partnering with families and providing them with the resources, tools, and training to support literacy at home, schools can help close the achievement gap and ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed. Done right,  family workshops or literacy events can demonstrate how schools can effectively partner with families and caregivers and empower them with the tools, coaching, and resources needed to support meaningful, high-quality literacy experiences at home. Family workshops can help build stronger relationships between families and schools, leading to increased trust and collaboration in the education process.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award-winning digital innovator, international speaker, and author of various education technology books. She has trained teachers in over 20 countries as a guest expert, consultant, and ambassador for the U.S. Embassy. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women and received a Bammy Award as the founder of #Edchat. She has been recognized by several entities as a leader in the movement of teacher-driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and webinars. She is the author of, Hacking Digital Learning with Edtech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go: Integrating Mobile Learning in the Classroom.