Helping Families by Helping Parents

My community's sjkid Fair is hosting "Sessions for parents and baby crawling races."

I'm sorry, but I'm not making that up.

There will also be "tons of resource booths from local organizations and businesses in the Greater Saint John Area" and "demonstrations from local sport organizations," but you can bet it'll be the baby races that really hold the crowd.

Curiously, the event is being held at the Saint John Cruise Ship Terminal, "a beautiful building and an excellent location for the 1st Annual sjkid FAIR." We are told nonprofit orgs can set up a booth for a fee of $50, while smaller and larger businesses have to pay $100 and $150 respectively.

The gang behind this is the Healthy Families, Healthy Communities Association, a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is "to stimulate family and community well-being by providing innovative opportunities and resources that connect and empower families to make healthy choices for themselves, their communities and the environment."

I wish them well.

It's been years since we did a family literacy festival.

In 2003 we had my friend Sheree Fitch up to read from her wonderful works. In 2004 we had a "Pajama Party" with Elliot the Moose and his author/illustrator Andrea Beck. I got to be Elliot. I've also appeared as Barney, Clifford and Franklin the Turtle. (Here he is visiting a school the day before a Festival.)

One time we drew 2000 people to the NB Museum, itself housed inside a public shopping centre called Market Square. I think that was also the "get your picture taken with Franklin" event. I remember that Franklin's changing room was on one side of Market Square, while his destination was on the other. In between stood some three to four hundred families. We enlisted some friendly but firm university students to help us get him safely across. Thankfully, I was outside the turtle suit that time.

Who has more fun than people?

Family literacy, family support, often seems to be bound up with balloons and storybook characters and little kids laughing or crying. There is an understandable confusion between supporting families and supporting early childhood development - so much so that many voices present daycare programs and kindergarten as examples of family literacy programming.

But sometimes, supporting family learning can look much different.

"My twelve year old brought home math homework," she said. "Times table stuff. She said, 'Mom, I need help.' I can't help her with that. I don't know how to do that times stuff. She wanted to do 12 times 12. I said, 'I can't do that.' I felt awful."

"Well? Do you want to learn right now?"


"Do you know anything about multiplication?"

"Is that the same as timesing things?"

"Yeah, timesing."

"Not really."

So I printed off a traditional times table, and a one-page sheet of multiplication facts ( 3x4=12; 4x4=16; etc.). Then I sat beside her and worked through a long multiplication exercise with double-digit numbers.

It took three times of me slowly talking and working my way through questions before she felt able to try one with me. The fifth question she did on her own, and she worked on her own for the next hour and a half. Early on, she made an error a couple of times when multiplying by zero, and there were some transposition errors with the carrying. But she gained in confidence, speed and accuracy.

No cartoon characters or whimsical poetry or potato prints. No balloons, or face painting or baby races. But when she left, she wasn't dreading her daughter's homework. Instead, she felt confident she could help her.

Isn't that family literacy as well?