Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE Program)
Kansas Reading Roadmap’s Literacy Integrated Family Engagement program, or LIFE, is a key component of our overall strategy for improving early literacy for children grades PK–3. LIFE facilitates emotional and academic experiences aimed at deepening children’s relationships with their parents, increasing their reading skills, and supporting a culture of literacy at home.
Meeting one night a week for eight weeks, parents and children engage in activities that bring families closer together while connecting them to their school community. LIFE includes a meal, parenting skills training, child-led playtime, parent lead read aloud, and a parent support group. The activities are consistent over the eight weeks in order to build comfort and familiarity throughout the program. In each session parents practice the skills they are learning with their children and receive coaching and feedback from the facilitators. LIFE models positive parenting behaviors and facilitates family interactions.
LIFE is in line with the Department of Education’s Partnership in Education report of dual capacity building framework for Family-School Partnerships. In order to be in line with the best practices, family engagement programs must be linked to learning and be relational, developmental, collaborative, and interactive. Using the kind of Two-Generation approach promoted by the Aspen Institute, LIFE draws on cutting-edge research for both literacy and social and emotional intelligence to create a robust learning experience for both children and families.
Components of LIFE
Every session opens with a greeting. Each family, as well as facilitators, checks in and talks about their week. This is an opportunity to share successes, to get to know each other, and to offer support. The greeting becomes an anchor of the program, setting the tone for the evening’s activities. It also begins the process of building an authentic, supportive social network that’s owned by the families themselves.
LIFE provides meals for all the families who attend. Establishing a habit of eating together is an important building block of a constructive family environment. For generations, family meals have been a time for parents and children to bond and connect. This practice is supported by research that demonstrates eating meals together actually lowers risk factors for children. LIFE models and normalizes group mealtime with the goal of encouraging parents to begin establishing their own family mealtimes at home.
Attuned Listening is designed to help parents attune to their child on a deeper level and for both parents and children to improve their listening skills. There are three levels of Attuned Listening, each one taking parents and children into a deeper relationship with each other and their emotions. These practices form the basis of many of the other skills that are critical to LIFE such as developing literacy skills, child-directed play, and the parenting group.
Doorways to Literacy
A portion of each session is devoted to family-based literacy activities that will help parents support the development of reading at home. The main focus of the Doorways to Literacy is cultivating read aloud at home, introducing families to a wide variety of books, and learn about how the strategies used by their child’s school to teach early literacy. This is an opportunity for families to connect to their schools and local libraries.
Child-led play is a powerful experience in which the child gets to have their parents undivided attention for a period of time. Allowing a child to assert themselves constructively through play meets his or her need for attention and affirmation and strengthens the relationship between parent and child. Child-led play is another opportunity for parents to practice the Attuned Listening skills they are learning and it makes the evening far more rewarding for the children who attend.
In every session, we have a group meeting where parents get direct support from one another. One of the biggest barriers to sustaining improvements for families is a lack of ongoing support. Supportive adult relationships are important for developing resilience and reducing the negative effects of stress. A group of peers simply listening and offering encouragement helps reinforce people’s commitment to continue down a positive path. The parent groups create a community of sustainability and ongoing support.
While parents are having Parent Group time, designated LIFE team members will lead Recreation Time with the children. This is a time for outdoor activities, playtime in a gym, art, or whatever activities are appropriate for the age of children and the possibilities afforded by the environment.
Family Gift and Gratitude
Each week there are gifts given to each family in appreciation for their attendance and participation. Some of the gifts will be books and other materials to directly support the creation of a culture of literacy at home and to help develop family cohesion. The gifts increase the likelihood that parents will attend all of the sessions. As the children come to get their gift, they or one of their parents say one thing they learned that they want to take into the week, along with something they are grateful for.