Family Language Kit Program: Connecting with Immigrant Families
From From Outreach to Equity: Innovative Models of Library Policy and Practice, by the ALA's Office for Literacy and Outreach Services; Robin Osborne, editor.
The Family Language Kit Program was developed by the Hamilton Public Library to promote reading, language development, and library use for new immigrants.
The language kits are part of a family literacy initiative designed to help immigrant families break down language and cultural barriers. Over several years, with the support of many partners, the library has created more than 100 dual-language kits in 15 languages. The kits contain a variety of engaging print and nonprint materials that are fun to share and promote language use and play. Kits focus on themes such as nutrition, safety, health, and the neighborhood. The kits are available in the branches, and most of the picture books are dual language (home language plus English). By providing dual-language materials, we enable families to learn English together.
The language kits grew out of an appreciation of the diversity of the Hamilton area. As a library system serving the whole community, we wanted to introduce books and the library in a respectful way. Our intent was to enlist parents as participants and partners in promoting literacy. Mothers with young children were targeted for special attention because as primary caregivers they have fewer opportunities for outside community connections and language learning experiences. Literacy studies have shown that parents will do things for their children that they won’t do for themselves.
We struggled with what materials to purchase and how to involve our intended users. Our partnerships with the Community Action Program for Children, the Parents Helping Parents Program, and the City of Hamilton Social and Public Health Services were essential to the success of the project.
Public Health Services hires and trains resource parents to introduce newcomer families to community resources. The library involved these resource parents in testing, translating, and promoting the kits. They are active literacy partners and have incorporated a visit to the local library as part of their community orientation program for newcomers.
All of the materials in the kits have been tested and retested. The resource parents take the kits with them when they visit new immigrant families. They evaluate the contents together and fill out evaluation forms that ask simple, specific questions. Before a kit can circulate, we are sure that the translations are accurate and the material is interesting and fun to read. We also know that the materials are culturally sensitive and appropriate. Testing was a long, slow process, and there were some surprises. A number of the books that we considered visually dull were especially valued by the families. The mothers in the test groups were delighted to be able to share retellings of folktales that they remembered from their childhood. By involving families in the testing process, we generated enthusiasm for the family literacy initiative. The best advertising is word of mouth, and the families who participated in the evaluation process brought other families to the library and proudly pointed out "their kits."
We used some of our regular suppliers for items such as puppets and picture dictionaries, but dual-language materials were initially hard to find. Our regular sources didn’t carry the items in the languages we needed. Although access to dual-language materials has improved, publishing still seems to lag a year or two behind immigration trends. The resource parents provided valuable assistance by translating several picture books into languages that were unavailable but desperately needed.
Although the family language kits were initially funded through grants and donations, the library is committed to providing resources for the growth and development of these important collections. The language holdings vary from branch to branch and reflect current settlement patterns. The program has provided a solid foundation for introducing language, stories, and the library to newcomer families.
See also, A Family Literacy Program Manual (pdf), created in collaboration with the Hamilton Public Library.
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