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Family Storyteller

About Family Storyteller

parents reading to their children Family Storyteller is a family literacy program that creates an opportunity for parents and children to interact around literacy and language activities. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.

Why reading to young children is important

Teachers report that they have children entering school who have never held a book in their hands. These children are struggling uphill from the first day they set foot in school. In a recent national survey, teachers reported that 35 percent of kindergarten children were not ready for school. The area in which children were reported to be most lacking was in literacy and language skills. Poor literacy skills in the early years place children at risk, often leading to grade retention, school failure and dropout, delinquency and running away, as well as unemployment and underemployment in adulthood.

The foundation for literacy is laid during the early years. During this time young children develop the skills and attitudes that will help them to be successful - and parents play a key role in that development. A child between ages one and six who shares a book with an adult for 15 minutes a day will have had 455 hours of individual reading instruction before entering school. A child who isn't read to will have none.

Being read to while young is related to children's interest in books and their performance on reading tasks. Unfortunately, parents who have low literacy skills tend to end up with children with low literacy skills. It is important to break that cycle early.

How the Family Storyteller Program helps families with young children

Family Storyteller is a family literacy program that creates an opportunity for parents and children to interact around literacy and language activities. The program is aimed at encouraging and training parents to play a vital role in the literacy development of their children. It is the product of a collaborative effort of Cooperative Extension, KNPB-TV Public Television, Washoe County Library System and Washoe County School District. It is designed for families with preschoolers and beginning readers. It helps all families but is specifically designed for parents who may have limited language skills and few children's books at home. The program includes six sessions during which families:

  • discuss key parent/child reading techniques
  • watch a video
  • practice reading
  • receive a free book
  • learn about extender activities which enhance the value of the reading
  • receive materials to complete the extender activities at home

Parents and children attend workshops together. In this way they will both succeed as they learn new skills and interact as a family. We have targeted families with a greater likelihood for low literacy and related problems. To reach these families, the workshops have been conducted in cooperation with programs serving at-risk families, such as:

  • libraries
  • family resource centers
  • Even Start and Head Start programs
  • child care centers
  • migrant programs
  • elementary schools
  • adult literacy programs
  • Hispanic service programs
  • domestic violence shelters

Parents have been very enthusiastic about the program, with most rating the major components of the workshops as either a 4 or 5 on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely satisfied.

Parents have significantly increased their use of key skills that help their children get the most out of book reading, such as:

  • Letting children pick out books
  • Sitting close
  • Talking about the cover
  • Guessing what happens next
  • Naming pictures
  • Using expression in voice
  • Pointing out new words
  • Connecting to real life
  • Reading slowly
  • Asking what happened
  • Having children tell story back
  • Setting regular reading time

Also, as a result of participating in the programs, parents and children have increased the amount of time they spend reading together and their enjoyment of joint book reading. Children have increased their understanding of basic book reading concepts.