Mothers organize Family Fair to promote reading in Santa Catarina

The most crucial and influential years of education occur very early in a child’s life. Unfortunately, many impoverished students are already behind when they begin primary school because they haven´t been exposed to reading. First graders are expected to have basic reading and writing skills by the end of the year, yet one third of students fail first grade every year in Guatemala. Students who are not able to develop the skills to be successful at a young age will continue to struggle in school, and the majority will eventually drop out. This is why Common Hope emphasizes early childhood development and promotes reading with children and parents through our Early Childhood Reading Program. We see the importance of working with parents and their young children to prepare them for school, create a culture of reading in the family, and increase the role parents play in their child´s development.

How the program works

The Early Childhood Reading Program is divided into ten sessions; groups of 10 to 15 parents come with their young children and work with the Common Hope facilitator to learn techniques on how to read with their children. Many parents believe that they can´t read a book with their children if they are illiterate, but the program shows parents that they can tell stories by looking at the images of the books and tell their own stories without having to read the words. One parent, who is Tzutujil Maya, watched his wife read to their son; now he uses the techniques to teach his son his native language by naming the objects in the books first in Spanish and then in Tzutujil. Most families don´t have books in their home, and as part of the program, families borrow books from the Common Hope library each week to practice the learned techniques at home. After the ten-week program, parents will have read more than 50 books with their children, and they are on the path to creating a culture of reading with their children and getting them ready to enter school.  Marta Julia, who had little education and can barely read herself, said “the program taught me to dedicate time to my son,” and that she, too, had learned new words while reading to him. She says that before the program, the family didn’t have any interest in books, but now they come to the library every two weeks or so to check out books. In July, another group of parents finished the program and now have the skills and tools to be more engaged in their child’s development.

Parents put their skills into action

This past June, the Early Childhood Reading Program partnered with the Nurturing Parenting Program to organize a Family Fair in the central plaza of Santa Catarina, one of the communities where Common Hope works. Jacqueline Figueroa, Reading and Creativity Promoter, and Vanessa Cassiano, Nurturing Parenting Program Coordinator, met for a month and a half with parents who had volunteered to organize an activity that would share what they had learned from the two programs with the community of Santa Catarina. The mothers came up with different ideas for activities they thought would be fun and creative ways to promote reading and healthy parent-child relationships. “The best part was to see the mothers teaching each other skills they had learned from the programs and exchanging ideas and experiences,” says Jacqueline. During the planning process, many mothers were shy and nervous about leading an activity on their own, but when the day of the fair came, they stepped up and did a great job. The fair included a reading corner with books for parents and children to read together, as well as different game stations that the mothers facilitated, which promoted respect, understanding and critical thinking skills.

Empowering mothers   

It was wonderful to see the mothers take on leadership roles and encouraging other parents and children to participate and learn together through creative activities.  The game called “The Loving Plate” entailed a relay race in which each pair was tied at the ankle and had to balance plates on their heads as they walked and gave words of praise and positive comments to each other. Learning to give words of praise is a central component of our Nurturing Parenting Program, helping to give parents and children the tools to create a caring and supportive home environment. Maria Rebeca, a mother who participated in both the parenting and reading program says, “Participating in these programs has been a beautiful experience. I now have more patience with my six children and we read together as a family.”

The mothers also handed out flyers about the Nurturing Parenting Program and the Early Childhood Reading Program to invite parents in Santa Catarina to participate with their children in these important Common Hope programs. After the fair, Jacqueline reflected that, “It was a wonderful experience for the families and it really empowered the mothers who organized it to realize that they have knowledge and skills to teach other parents.” The fair was such a success that the mothers are already asking when the next activity will be.

Help promote early childhood literacy

You can help ensure that our youngest students have access to reading by giving the gift of books, and we’ve made it easy! Just visit our online Amazon wish list titled “Early Childhood Reading Needs,” select the books you would like to purchase and have them shipped to our U.S. office! All books will be shipped in a container with our school supplies, which is scheduled to leave for Guatemala in mid-October.

For more information, email Kallie Sandell at, or call 651.287.0712

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