Helping adults with low literacy has a positive impact on future generations

We usually think of literacy meaning the ability to read and write, but it also includes math and computer skills. These are all important abilities people need in order to succeed in life.

When adults get a late start on their education and need some help, there are community resources available. The Hamilton Literacy Council is a registered charity that has been helping adults with low literacy to improve their skills for over 40 years.

What exactly is low literacy?

Low literacy skills refers to a level of the essential communication skills in reading, writing, math, and computer which are below the skills necessary today to cope with the activities and opportunities of daily life, work life and life in the community.

Students at the Hamilton Literacy Council are learning new computer skills.

Students at the Hamilton Literacy Council are learning new computer skills.

Each situation is unique, so at the Hamilton Literacy Council they create an individualized learning plan to help each student reach their specific goals. Adult students may want to learn how to read to help get a better job, for increased independence, or simply to read to their family.

Then they meet weekly with a volunteer tutor for some one-to-one learning, or attend small group classes. They may start right at the beginning with learning the letters, sounds and sight words, or perhaps at a higher level to improve reading comprehensions skills, and then progress up to a Grade 5 school level. Once they reach this stage, they are considered an independent learner because they have the necessary skills to read on their own, and can look up words they don’t know. That means they can read well enough to self-educate, or to take part in some of the great programs offered by the school boards or Mohawk College.

The Hamilton Literacy Council has seen the value and importance of encouraging a love of reading early on. “Children are very advantaged when they are in a home where a parent is able to support their education and they are surrounded by books in those early years,” says Helen McLeod, Executive Director of the Hamilton Literacy Council. “The parent is definitely the child’s first teacher and their very first role model in life.”

If parents don’t read, or they have a limited education, children may be missing out on early learning opportunities, and unfortunately get a very late start in life. Helen explained they are seeing second and third generations of students struggling in school because adults with low literacy are not equipped to support their children in learning.

The Hamilton Literacy Council is trying to change that.

By supporting parents and families, they are giving them the tools to help their own children as students in school. In particular, the Hamilton Literacy Council helps parents better communicate with schools by teaching them how to complete agendas and home reading programs.

“Communication is a big part of literacy,” explains Helen. “It’s important for parents to know what’s happening with their child at school, and to be able to access resources, if needed. Hamilton is a very rich city as far as supports being available, but connecting someone with low literacy skills to those services is a challenge because most of it is done through written print media, such as posters and flyers. They miss out and it’s so sad.”

Telling Tales is proud to have partnered with Hamilton Literacy Council from the start. Last year we provided funding so they could purchase iPads to help their learning programs. With kids beginning to be taught on iPads, there are additional literacy challenges to overcome, so this is one way for parents to keep up with new technology. Since 2009, Telling Tales has raised over $30,000 to support their essential programs.

Book Swap & Shop

Looking for that perfect book at the Telling Tales Book Swap & Shop!

Looking for that perfect book at the Telling Tales Book Swap & Shop!

The Hamilton Literacy Council is an important community partner with Telling Tales. They help us to promote our festival all year round and play a leadership role in running our bustling Book Swap & Shop. Before the festival, people in the community donate their gently used children’s books and young adult novels. These are sold for $1-$2. Kids can also bring a used book and “swap” it for a different one. Over 4,000 books were swapped last year! All the proceeds support local literacy, but the best part is that kids get to take home a new-to-them book.

“When you see the children bring in their books and get excited, and then all of a sudden take it back because they decide they can’t part with it, you see how much the book means to the child,” says Helen. “Then you will get others that swap a book, run over to a picnic table and read it, and then swap it again!”

For more information about the Hamilton Literacy Council, please visit their website:

Class learning photos provided by the Hamilton Literacy Council