Thursday, August 14, 2008

Literacy and Family Bookmaking

I was recently having discussions with a parent about doing a Family Literacy Night at her child's school. When she presented the idea of a bookmaking workshop with me to the committee, one person said that she didn't understand what making books had to do with literacy. She convinced them and the workshop will go on. I am so close to the subject and so passionate about it, I realized I didn't even have an answer except: of course they have everything to do with each other.

I decided I need to search the internet for some further information. gave me just what I was looking for in their information about Balanced Literacy.

Balanced literacy is an approach for teaching literacy that is widely used in classrooms across the country. It involves several methods of teaching and learning reading and writing, whole class instruction directed by the teacher with independent work in reading, writing, and oral language. By integrating a variety of approaches, a balance is achieved in which students learning to understand text (from a whole language approach) as well as how to read text (from a phonics approach).

The section that I think particularly pertains to making books with children in general and family workshops in particular is:

Independent Writing
Integral to the process is independent writing, which provides students with the consistent opportunity to apply and practice the skills already introduced and to cultivate their love of and comfort with writing on their own level.

In order to get good at writing, just as in order to get good at reading, quantity is important as well as quality. I was a big reader as a child and read Little Women and a lot of the classics, but I also read every Bobbsey Twins, every Nancy Drew, and lots of Cherry Ames and that was where I got to be comfortable with reading. With writing it is the same. We need to learn sentence and paragraph structure and grammar, but we also need to learn to take joy in writing, to express ourselves with freedom and abandon. I can't remember ever seeing a child make a book and not want to write in it immediately. The handmade book sets the stage for the writing experience

Extending bookmaking out of the classroom and into the home is a logical next step. With all the material that teachers are required to cover during the school year, finding time for children to write for pleasure about the things they care about can be difficult. I feel that now, more than ever, teachers and schools need the support of parents at home. But it shouldn't just be about memorizing multiplication facts and doing worksheets. The home can be a place where creative learning happens. And the wonderful thing is that parents will find that their own lives will be enriched in the process. They often tell me how relaxed they feel after one of my family bookmaking workshops.

When I started using recycled materials for my workshops, I had two reasons. One was environmental: to consume less. The other was to make bookmaking easy to continue at home. With no special papers or materials to purchase, it is inexpensive and easy to get started. I have since discovered that it is also liberating, especially to adults. While children are very free about writing in the books they create, adults are often afraid. What if I mess it up?, they think. With recycled materials, it doesn't matter; they have only used paper that was going to the recycle bin.

We can improve literacy and all grow as writers, readers, and creative human beings at the same time.

I offer Family Workshops to schools and libraries in Massachusetts and southern NH and Maine.

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