Babies That Zoom: Families connect online to develop literacy skills - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Babies That Zoom: Families connect online to develop literacy skills

January 26, 2021


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, spurring orders to stay at home and stopping in-person programming, Edmonton’s Centre for Family Literacy (CFL) was inspired to find the opportunities out of the challenges that arose. By quickly adapting their programming, they were able to reach new families from across the country – and around the globe – to share the importance of family literacy.

What is Family Literacy?
Family literacy is when the whole family takes time to sharpen their literacy skills. It’s a fun way to promote healthy child development and sing, play and read together. While the first five years are critical for a child’s development, it’s also before they enter a formal schooling environment. That means that parents, grandparents and other family members are children’s first and best teachers.

The Centre for Family Literacy is a United Way funded partner, and its mission is to empower people, strengthen communities and transform lives through literacy.

“Literacy is not only reading and writing. It’s also being able to understand it and being able to apply literacy skills to all facets of life, to help you become an active member of your community,” said Kristin Dmytriw, Programs & Training Manager for Centre for Family Literacy.

“It’s really about finding those naturally occurring moments in your everyday routine where you can be really intentional with learning. So, when you’re making a recipe, it’s the vocabulary you’re using, it’s the skills you’re using when you’re mixing the ingredients, it’s making predictions about how the cookies are going to turn out.”

And just as we know that trauma and negative experiences can be passed down from generation to generation, it’s important to remember that positive experiences do too. Through Centre for Family Literacy programs like Intergenerational Rhymes that Bind, participants develop their literacy skills while connecting across generations, whether within the same family or the same community. Pre-pandemic, CFL did this by partnering with senior organizations to help both seniors and families build community in ways they might not otherwise be able to.

Rhymes That Bind and Babies That Zoom
When the lockdown happened, in-person programming, especially with vulnerable senior populations, was suspended. CFL moved quickly to figure out how to deliver programming in order to continue to reach families. Particularly as kids were home from school or daycare, program participants were looking for ways to connect with other families and learning.

“[People are] at home with their families, so we have this opportunity to say ‘guess what? Not only now are you your child’s first and best teacher, but you always have been. Let us show you what you’re already doing and start building on that foundation’,” said Kristin.

By moving intergenerational programming online, grandparents who wouldn’t have been able to attend in person – COVID or no COVID – because of geographical barriers were suddenly able to take part in a fun and educational hour of singing, signing and rhymes.

Verna, Ken, Amanda and Frank participate in the Centre for Family Literacy’s online Intergenerational Rhymes That Bind programming.

“We are happy that [Rhymes That Bind] carried on online because in many ways it provided a structure for our day,” said mom Amanda, who attends Rhymes that Bind with her toddler Frank and is joined by her parents Verna and Ken in Nova Scotia.

“Having a newborn can be a bit chaotic, so it gave us some accountability to get up at a certain time and jump online with other people who are experiencing the same thing. It wasn’t the mat leave I imagined, but I don’t think anyone could have imagined what living through a pandemic would be like. So this was possibly the best-case scenario in terms of having a roof over our heads, programs at our fingertips and being together through an online medium.”

Amanda and her family are already seeing the benefits of the Intergenerational Rhymes That Bind program with Frank. In the last few months, he’s starting to pick books off his shelf and taking them to his parents to read.

“That’s really important to us for him to enjoy books and for us to do that together, and for his grandparents and other people to be able to read with him,” Amanda added.

Busting Barriers Through Online Programming
Even once in-person programming is an option again, Kristin wants to see online family literacy programming continue at the Centre for Family Literacy.

“There are challenges here, but there’s got to be more opportunities and we have found them. We have reached new families, we’ve been able to build capacity within communities internationally that we’ve never been able to do before,” explained Kristin.

“I can guarantee we will always keep an online intergenerational program, because it’s opened our eyes to the fact that all family isn’t just here. We’re still supporting [local] families but look at the circle of individuals outside of Edmonton that we are connecting with, this helps us build capacity in other communities. We can reach out to grandparents and other family members around the world. Why would we ever get rid of that?”

Verna and Ken said they also found a great community and enjoyed connecting with other families. They hope that a hybrid model continues post-pandemic, not just so they c

an watch Frank play and grow, but also for the benefit of others.

“The upside of the pandemic is that it’s shown us that there are other ways that you can participate using technology…so that participation can be wholesome and complete. By being online, you’re making it more accessible to everyone,” said Verna.

Family Literacy Day takes place every January 27th to raise awareness about the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. The Centre for Family Literacy is hosting an online family literacy carnival to celebrate January 27 to January 31.