Former First Lady Barbara Bush has long maintained that:
“The home is the child’s first school, and the parent is the child’s first teacher.”
Based on that belief, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy has focused on the bookends of the educational spectrum—parents and young children—through its signature family literacy programs for the last 28 years.
We know that many of the 36 million low-literate adults in the U.S. are struggling. Low literacy can cause increased periods of unemployment and reduced income, and can impact the health of the whole family as well through food and lifestyle choices. We also know that many low-literate adults are parents who want to provide a better life for their children. Because parents who are literate, enjoy learning, and engage their children in literacy-rich activities in the home are more likely to raise children who are school ready and enjoy reading, we are working hard to find solutions.
Helping Generations of Learners Succeed
To make learning more accessible, we launched the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation in 2015. Over the past 18 months, developers have been working hard to create mobile apps to help adults learn to read. Soon, the competition field will be narrowed to the top 15 apps, which will be tested by adult learners in Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Ultimately, we hope that the winning app will vastly expand educational opportunities for working parents everywhere by allowing them to learn anytime, anyplace.
We have also partnered with Talk With Me Baby, an initiative that coaches parents and caregivers to help build their babies’ brains in a simple, but incredibly important way: by talking to them. Research has also shown that the quantity and quality of words a child hears in the first three years of life make a big difference in their cognitive development. We’re helping Talk With Me Baby expand their training, aimed at nurses and other healthcare professionals who routinely work with parents and babies, spread this important message across the country.
Reading: Bringing Families Together
One of the easiest things any parent or caregiver can do with a child is read. As a parent, and now as a grandparent, snuggling up with a good book has been one of my favorite ways to spend time with the children in my life. Reading aloud doesn’t have to stop in early childhood. One Christmas when my first grandchild was three, we cuddled by the fire to read The Polar Express. When I was done, I asked him if it was a good book. I was surprised to hear his father, who had been listening quietly behind us, say, “It sure was, Gram.” That reminded me of another favorite quote from Mrs. Bush.
“Sharing the pleasure of learning to read has to be one of the most important experiences a loving adult and child can have. Reading together brings families together.”
Becky Dyer is the executive vice president of programming for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.