As a reader and former English/Language Arts teacher, literacy is an area of tremendous concern for me. International Literacy Day is an opportunity for us to raise awareness of illiteracy, a global problem which has been made more difficult to tackle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is focusing their attention on teaching and learning as it relates to literacy and the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to watch UNESCO’s live discussion of this topic, which took place earlier today, but I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about what we could do to support literacy learning during the pandemic.

Here are some of my ideas for how we can help support literacy (both at the family level, and also worldwide):

Spend Time Reading With Your Children

Earlier in the year, I discussed the importance of summer reading in order to prevent what’s known as the “summer slide.” In one of my summer reading posts, I recommended that kids read for at least 20 minutes a day to help them maintain their reading skills. While many schools are in the process of re-opening, and children are beginning to attend classes (whether in-person or online), I think continuing that habit of reading every day is just as important as it was over the summer vacation.

One of the ways that you can encourage your kids to read is by reading with them. Depending on the age of your child, and their current reading skills, you might choose to go about this in a couple of different ways. You could have your child read aloud to you, encourage an older child to read to their younger sibling(s), or even spend time together as a family while you each read your own book.

Encourage Your Children To Spend Time Writing

In addition to spending time reading every day, it’s also important for kids to spend time writing. While writing is something that your children will focus on at school, concerns about grades (particularly at the middle and high school levels) can quickly make writing a stressful activity for students. I think it is important for kids to be encouraged to write creatively outside of the school environment, to give them a chance to continue seeing writing as a pleasurable activity.

Here are a few ideas for fun writing projects:

  • Diary/journal entries
  • Letters to friends and family members (or to a fictional character)
  • Short stories (which can also be illustrated, if they like to draw)
  • Poems, jokes, or riddles
  • Alternate endings to movies (or books)

If your child has difficulty coming up with ideas for stories, there are a lot of great writing prompts that you can find online. They could also write a story based on a picture, or a movie (or book) that they love.

Donate Books

One of the ways that you can support literacy in your community is by donating books to organizations that are in need of them. Many local libraries and schools can benefit from the donation of new or gently used books. Some charity organizations may also run annual book drives to solicit donations.

Prior to making your donation, be sure to check with the organization regarding their needs, and the types of donations that are currently being accepted. My local library, for example, is not currently accepting book donations due to the pandemic.

Donate Financially

In addition to donating books, there are quite a few literacy programs that you can contribute to financially. Before donating to any charity, I always recommend checking out their score on a website like Charity Navigator, just to make sure that your donation will be used effectively. I also suggest checking out the charity’s annual report, if one is provided on their website. This will give you a better idea of how your contribution will be used.

Here are a couple of programs that you might be interested in checking out:

  • Pajama Program This is a U.S. based program that aims to help children by promoting and supporting “a comforting bedtime routine for all children to help them thrive.” The Pajama Program provides kids (from infancy to 18 years) with new pajamas and books. In addition to providing kids with these items, the Pajama Program also offers reading programs through its Reading Centers in New York City and Atlanta, Georgia, as well as Virtual Reading Parties on Instagram.
  • World Literacy FoundationThe World Literacy Foundation’s mission is to “ensure that every young individual regardless of geographic location has the opportunity to acquire literacy skills to reach their full potential, succeed at school and beyond.” The foundation not only provides books and educational resources (in Africa, Australia, South America, the United Kingdom, and the United States), but also offers literacy support and tutoring to struggling readers.

While International Literacy Day lasts for only one day, the problem of illiteracy is an ongoing concern that we should continue to focus on throughout the rest of the year.

If you are interested in learning more about the International Literacy Day activities that are currently going on around the world, I definitely recommend checking out UNESCO’s website. In addition to talking about UNESCO’s focus for today’s events, the website also includes a brief video that discusses the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on literacy education.

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