Family Literacy Program

The Mississippi Humanities Council supports two family-based reading programs for new adult readers and their elementary school age children and as part of the 30th anniversary ...

The Mississippi Humanities Council supports two family-based reading programs for literacy-challenged adult readers and their lower elementary school age children. It is common knowledge that Mississippi has an alarmingly high illiteracy rate (one of the highest in the nation), and a dearth of adequate funding available for remedying this problem. Considering the central role that the ability to read plays in any programming or even basic understanding of the humanities, the council has developed reading programs that use the family unit to instill a love of reading, promote an interest in the public library, and most important, encourage families to read books and talk about ideas together.

What makes Family Reading Bonds and the Luciérnagas Family Reading Program unique is the emphasis on substantive content and exploration of ideas and concepts with parents and their children. These family literacy programs model good reading aloud skills and discussion techniques that stimulate interest and knowledge of the books’ content—helping foster a lifelong love of learning through reading. The programs present history, cultural values, and literature in enjoyable ways and relaxed settings. Participants experience animated story telling and open-ended questioning that lead to meaningful conversations, thus assisting families in moving from basic, functional reading to thoughtful literacy.

In 1997 the Mississippi Humanities Council became the first state to partner with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in the Prime Time Family Reading Time program. Through a grant from LEH, the Canton Public Library became the first site in the state to present this innovative program. Children age 6-10 and their parents were recruited to participate for eight weeks, meeting with a storyteller and humanities scholar/discussion leader at the local public library to experience and discuss great works of children’s literature. A child care attendant was available to tend to pre-school children. A light meal was provided by local churches, businesses, and civic organizations, and transportation was made available. Two other locations participated under the original grant, and three more were supported in 1998 by a grant from the Phil Hardin Foundation.

Recognizing that some families were intimidated by the library setting, MHC developed Family Reading Bonds, a program modeled closely on Prime Time but made available to social service agencies, community centers, and other sites where participants were often more comfortable. The same rigorous standards and insistence on content and discussion are maintained under Family Reading Bonds.

As the program has grown, the number of non-English speaking families in Mississippi, most notably the Spanish-speaking population, has increased. To address this situation, in June, 2002 the council approved instituting the Luciérnagas Family Reading Program, a dual-language, Spanish-English version of the Family Reading Bonds program. In the summer and fall of 2004 pilot projects were successfully carried out in Oxford and Pontotoc and a third pilot was completed in Jackson in early 2005. The program continues as a council-sponsored project, traveling across the state as requested.

For more information on the council’s Family Literacy Project please contact David Morgan, Special Projects Coordinator, at the Mississippi Humanities Council. 601-432-6204