Inspire parents to open the door for reading with their child

Image: Jack Frog /

The role of parents in their children’s literacy skills cannot be underestimated. Evidence-based research demonstrated more than two decades ago that literacy starts at home, at a very young age. Hence the concept of “family literacy”: a more holistic view of literacy that links the reading and writing of a child to the broader context of his or her family.

A child that grows up in a family with a strong literacy profile has a good chance of becoming an excellent reader him- or herself. But we all know that the literacy skills of parents can vary greatly, depending on their school education, job, social background, interests… And we know that many parents believe that the literacy education of their child starts “later, at school”.

How can parents be convinced that they can also play an active role in the development of the literacy skills of their child?

To tackle this question, five European cities set up an Erasmus+ project called Open the Door for Reading, aiming at the exchange of good practices and research. The five cities involved (Bristol, Brussels, Gothenburg, Milan and Turku) help professionals from various sectors to inspire parents in their reading endeavour, especially parents facing multiple challenges.

One of the most important outcomes of this shared project is – unsurprisingly – that professionals need to follow the parents’ rhythm instead of forcing them into their own target schemes. For many parents, this implies that reading books aloud will only come (much) later: we need to encourage them to tell stories and to sing songs or recite small rhymes with their child, to discover signs in daily life, to spend quality time with their child.

There are so many steps to be taken and we, professionals working in various arenas, should not skip a single one of them when working with parents.

Stijn Callewaert works for the Brussels Public Library Network, one of the partners in the Open the Door for Reading project.