Family Literacy Fact Sheet

Family literacy refers to the many ways families develop and use literacy skills, from enjoying a storybook together, to playing word games, singing, writing to a relative or friend, sharing day-to-day tasks such as making a shopping list or using a recipe, and surfing the Internet.


Parents’ literacy skills and their ability to engage with their children in ways that encourage literacy at an early age have a lasting and far-reaching impact on children’s language development, future success in school and well being throughout their lives. Having a parent read aloud helps children learn listening, vocabulary and language skills, and develop imagination and creativity. Additionally, it’s important for adults to continue exercising their reading abilities at all stages of their lives.


  • 48 per cent of adult Canadians have low literacy skills that fall below high school equivalency and affect their ability to function at work and in their personal lives. 17 per cent function at the lowest level, where individuals may, for example, be unable to read the dosage instructions on a medicine bottle. (OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies*, 2013).
  • Over half (54.7 per cent) of adult Canadians score in the two lowest skill levels in numeracy, up from 49.8 percent in 2003. People with inadequate literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed than those who scored higher. (Skills in Canada: First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)* – Statistics Canada, 2013).
  • Parents’ reading habits play a large role in determining how often kids read: 57 per cent of kids who are frequent readers have parents who read books 5–7 days per week, compared to only 15 per cent of kids who are infrequent readers. (Kids and Family Reading Report – Scholastic, 2017).
  • Nine in 10 kids and parents say they enjoy/enjoyed read-aloud time, and parents of children ages 0–5 cite reading books aloud, telling stories and talking together as among the most important things parents should do with their children to develop language skills. (Kids and Family Reading Report – Scholastic, 2017).
  • Child development researchers agree: children’s symbolic play (where an object is used as a stand-in for another object, such as a wooden block representing a car) correlates to cognitive and language development (Edward Fisher, 1992).
  • Family play doesn’t just encourage reading: a study in the Journal of Music Therapy found that singing correlates with increased language development, math ability and overall improved school grades (1999). 


*The 2013 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competenties surveyed adults between the aged of 16 and 65 not residing in institutions or on Aboriginal reserves. It also excludes families of members of the Armed Forces living on military bases as well as residents of some sparsely populated areas.

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