And So it Begins: Literacy Workshop No. 1

Naima Shirdon

When Sirad and I first began talking about the Somali Literacy Project, we knew we wanted it to be an effort steeped in community activism. Simply giving lip service to the complex issues of literacy within the Somali community is a one-dimensional approach, rather akin to diagnosing challenges and stopping short of actualizing solutions. It is the implementation of such potential solutions and ideas that creates a dynamic process which fosters learning and growth. On Sept 7th, with the help of a grant from United Way of Central Ohio, we held the first Somali Literacy Workshop. The workshop was a success and enabled us to have a conversation about early literacy and disability with a number of Somali mothers.  

There’s definitely a wide range of topics we could have covered. But the agenda (pictured above) was really quite simplistic. We figured that it’s better to focus on a few key concepts and explore this thoroughly, as opposed to overburdening the audience with too much information. As such, the conversation began with talking about how the American school system differs from the school system back in Somalia. While the former requires the parents to play a central role in their child’s learning, the latter distinguishes the teacher as the sole educator. We then explored the importance of talking and shared reading. The session was very interactive and spawned many ideas for future events. It’s important for us to have these literacy workshops serve as conversations more so than presentations. They should should function as a space for Somali women to talk about issues of education, literacy, and disability, pose questions and share ideas.

At the end of the night, each parent had the option of choosing a book to take home – either “Goodnight Gorilla” or “Goodnight Moon.” We made sure to choose books that could be enjoyed by parents who can’t read/speak English. These well-loved, classic children’s books allow for much interaction and have the pictures at the focal point of the story. “Goodnight Gorilla,” for instance, is a mostly wordless picture book – allowing the parents to guide the story and engage the child during the shared reading process. It was great to see that when moms were asked which book they’d like to take home, many posed this choice to their child, allowing them to choose which book they liked better. This is reminiscent of research which has highlighted that children are more likely to finish a book they choose themselves.


As for the children, while their moms attended the literacy workshop, they spent their time reading, playing with alphabet blocks and engaging in some dynamic roleplay.

Many thanks to the wonderful volunteers who advertised and recruited for the event and of course, United Way of Central Ohio for making this possible. It is hoped that this is the first workshop in a series of many to come.


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