Reading kits soften language barrier for Toronto families

Reading is not always an easy skill for children to learn. For many immigrant families, helping their children learn to read becomes even more difficult.

That’s where the Family Literacy Collection can help, according to Enir Bassani, a community relations officer with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The program, designed by the board, distributes family reading kits in schools across Toronto. Families in Malvern are among 5,000 Toronto families this year to receive the kits, which include stories, worksheets, and CDs.

The CDs contain audio of a teacher demonstrating the correct pronunciation of words, and two children repeating. This comes in especially handy for families who face language barriers, especially those with parents who are recent immigrants. Bassani says that the CDs allow parents to learn along with their children.

“With the reading kits, the children become our ambassadors,” said Bassani. “They can prove to their parents that they’re able to read, and that they understand the story.”

The kits are currently being used in schools the board have deemed high need, including those with lower EQAO results. Many of these schools are in Portuguese, Hispanic, and Jamaican neighbourhoods, where parents aren’t always able to provide academic help, and where dropout rates are high.

Many parents face difficulties such as shift work, poverty, and language barriers, leaving them unable to properly coach their children at home on their reading skills. The program aims to level the playing field with these families, so their children can have the same advantage of those with more affluent, educated parents.

The program also gives parents the tools to be able to read with their children, and show them it’s important. According to Bassani, the program has been successful in this area so far.

“Children are reading, and children are responding, and they’re so anxious to get to the next level [of the program]”, Bassani said.

Although the Family Literacy Program is geared toward families who face demographic issues such as poverty and language barriers, the kits are distributed to every grade one student in participating schools.

The kits cost about $100 per collection, with funding from the Ministry of Education. If a parent whose child does not attend a school that’s part of the program wishes to purchase one, they can do so from the TCDSB, at $20 per kit.

Bassani says that the program has been widely successful so far, and with more funding, the program could be extended to other schools and boards.