When Thokozani Mkhize was growing up in South Africa in the 1990s, she devoured storybooks from all over the world. She read Chinese myths and Greek legends. There were Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and “Goosebumps” novels.
The one thing she never read though were South African stories.
“At the time I wasn’t really thinking, why do none of these characters look like me?” she says. “But as I grew up, I realized there was a gap.”
The Five Pillars of Family Literacy are evidence-based statements about literacy that have been curated from a school principal, poverty expert, renowned reading expert, economists and a social mobility study. The Metro East Literacy Project activities are based on these pillars. Let's look at Pillar Five.
Children who grew up in a home with more than 500 books spent three years longer in school than children whose parents had only a few books. Also, a child whose parents have lots of books is nearly 20 percent more likely to finish college…Even a relatively small number of books can make a difference; a child whose family has 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than a child whose family is sadly book-less. --Research in Social Stratification and Mobility study (Elsevier)
I visited a lovely teen mom on one of my parent educator visits. She invited me upstairs to see a closet that was packed with designer baby clothes her friends had given her at the baby shower. Sadly, no one thought to give her books to read to her infant son. Books are the best gifts the baby could have received. The clothes sure were cute, but they would not help the baby's brain development like books would do. I made sure to give the mom baby books on my next visits.
Another time I visited two polar opposite homes of two-year-olds. One family had an entire living room wall lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. I noticed many different genres of books. They also had a low shelf of children's books their two-year-old daughter could reach. Across town, another family I visited did not have any books in the home. The only printed material I noticed was a cereal box. The young mom sat on the couch with her infant son on her lap. The grandmother, mom's two-year-old son, and her young adult brother were all gathered in the living room playing a video game. That day I witnessed two contrasting home literacy cultures. What might be the educational outcomes of these two-year-olds?
Simply having books in the home does not guarantee that a child will grow up to be successful in school and in life and gain social mobility. There are a plethora of other factors that influence life outcomes. But why not stack the odds in the family's favor by adding books to the home whenever and however possible? What does a family have to lose? Who knows what possibilities and potential will be unlocked when the parents not only read to the children but also read for themselves? If the research says having books in the home is beneficial, why not try it? It could be an empowering move that transforms the whole family culture.