'Seeds of literacy best sown in home'

"The seeds of literacy are best sown in the home," said Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society general president.

And from the home, literacy efforts can then expand into the community, she added.Pres. Jack; her counselors, Chieko N. Okazaki and Aileen H. Clyde; and several members of the Relief Society general board recently met with the Church News to discuss how members can increase literacy skills in home and Church life. The discussion centered around the Church's Gospel Literacy Effort, which was announced in January 1993 as the ongoing emphasis of the Relief Society's 1992 sesquicentennial celebration. (Please see Jan. 30, 1993, Church News.)

The auxiliary officers emphasized that there are two purposes to the effort. The first is to teach basic gospel literacy skills to those who cannot read or write. Although not everyone has need of learning these basic skills, everyone can benefit, as explained in the effort's second purpose: "To encourage Church members to study the gospel and improve themselves and their families throughout their lives."

"We have been issued a magnificent challenge through the Gospel Literacy Effort - a challenge to pursue lifelong learning for ourselves and for those under our stewardship," Pres. Jack noted. "We haven't only taken upon ourselves the task of teaching basic reading and writing, but we have agreed to become lifelong learners ourselves.

"It seems so evident to me that literacy and encouraging learning in the home is going to enhance every life in a home," she added. "Our prophets and leaders have told us over and over again of the importance of scripture study and of the importance of seeking learning throughout our lives.

"So often," she said, "people look at the guidelines to the literacy effort and say, `Oh well, we don't have anybody who doesn't know how to read or write.' The Gospel Literacy Effort includes everyone. Everybody can improve and continually learn."

And everybody can "more fully participate" in gospel learning and in society as a result of increased literacy skills, said Sister Clyde.

In fact, the auxiliary leaders said one of the latest definitions of literacy, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is "using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential."

Today's complex society greatly influences the need to improve one's literacy skills - regardless of educational background, Sister Clyde said. "I think that the diversions - I'll even say the necessary diversions - of the activities of parents and children make what we're offering a difficult effort because of how busy life can be, but the effort to improve literacy is a fundamental and necessary one."

The Relief Society general presidency and board members discussed several ways literacy can be integrated into work, community, Church and home life, and they also pointed out available resources. Their suggestions include:

Exemplify in the home a love of reading good books and other appropriate reading materials. "Example is the best teacher," Pres. Jack noted. "We must show, as well as tell. We all know that it never works to ask a child to do what we say, not what we do. What we exemplify is far more significant than what we testify."

She spoke of one mother in a large family who "decided she had really done too good of a job in passing on her love of reading to her children. She said, `I thought I might be able to read in bed on Saturday morning and have them do the housework, but as it turns out, they are all in bed reading and have usually managed to borrow my book.' "

Study the scriptures together as a family and do so in informal, as well as formal, settings. "One time when I was 7 years old," Sister Clyde related, "I was assigned a 21/2-minute talk. My mother handed me the book of Luke and said, `Read this. You may find something interesting in it.' That was like an invitation to open a box. I began reading, and I did find something that I understood as a 7-year-old. All Mother had done was introduce me to the idea.

"Gospel literacy," she continued, "is where you see people actually turning to the scriptures and finding something or enjoying something and asking, `What does this mean?' "

Read to children. "Research has shown that reading aloud is the best way to assure that your children will be good readers and good learners," said Pres. Jack.

Be aware of what appropriate reading materials are available. "Parents may be well-educated or not, but many are blank when it comes to knowing how to commend reading materials to their children," Sister Clyde explained.

In speaking of this obstacle, Carma Hales of the Relief Society general board suggested that wards compile lists of appropriate books and reading materials, and also ensure that members know the location of a local library. These book lists could include the names of several children's classics.

Provide a support system for those involved in increasing literacy skills. Carol Lee Hawkins, general board member, emphasized that reading materials are not the only issue in literacy. "It's the motivation; it's the charity."

The auxiliary leaders gave examples of people who support each other in literacy efforts. MarJean Wilcox, general board member, related the example of a ward in Provo, Utah, in which are "many single parents and many older women. The older women provide after-school tutoring and story-telling time for the children of working mothers."

Ensure day-care providers are reading from appropriate books to your children if you are a working mother.

Other ways the auxiliary leaders suggested to increase literacy include reading local newspapers for listings of community events - many of which charge no fees to attend, encouraging members to bring and refer to their scriptures during Church meetings, and reading and writing family histories.

Concerning other areas of literacy, Sister Okazaki said that learning to adjust and adapt within a culture and environment is important. She spoke of when she was serving with her husband, Ed, when he was a mission president in Japan. "For missionaries, the adjustment and adaptation to that environment was a challenge to many of them. They were not literate in that culture, and they couldn't preach until they'd adjusted and adapted. The principles of adaptation and adjustment are crucial in relation to being literate in your surroundings."

Sister Okazaki related how when her children were small, she used to play a game with them when she took them to the park. "I'd have different words, such as grass, fence, tree and duck, written on pieces of paper. I'd give the children the papers, and they'd run and place words on the relating object."

Whatever the literacy effort, the Relief Society general presidency and general board members emphasized the need to show respect to those involved. "Experts have taught us that beginning readers are not beginning thinkers," said Sister Hawkins. "In the home, we have so many ages and stages of experiences. Probably the fundamental thing we've learned is to respect the individual, the experience and knowledge they bring to the literacy moment."

And as positive literacy efforts occur in the home, agreed the auxiliary leaders, so will positive results. "There is a high probability," said Sister Hales, "that students will do well in school when they come from homes where learning is something that is prized and valued and where children are encouraged to learn. It's just common sense."

In speaking of the blessings of life-long learning, Pres. Jack said: "It seems to me that ultimately as we accept this challenge of teaching each other and encouraging lifelong personal spiritual study and self-improvement, we must seek great humility. The more we teach, the more we realize how much there is to learn, particularly from each other."

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