Literacy Backpacks

Literacy backpacks contain books and related activities for children and their caregivers to read and do together. They are often prepared by teachers and loaned out to families to bring literacy into the home and build home/school, parent/teacher partnerships. Numerous school districts in Alberta have had backpack programs, including ones in Canmore, Red Deer, and Vermillion; but parents and playgroups can build them too!

Literacy backpacks are often assembled around a particular theme. This may take the form of a topic such as dinosaurs, an author, a genre, an age group or audience, or a big question.

A typical literacy backpack contains one or more books, a letter to parents explaining how to use the backpack, directions and materials for games and activities, and a checklist to ensure that everything is returned properly. For example, a literacy backpack on insects might contain a poster on different kinds of insects, a copy of The Hungry Caterpillar, a magnifying glass or insect jar, and a small sketch book.

Research shows that literacy backpacks have numerous benefits—for everyone involved:

  • Schools help make reading fun, interesting, and accessible outside of school.
  • Teachers engage and build relationships with parents and reinforce classroom teaching with learning at home.
  • Parents and caregivers are more involved, have an opportunity to model reading, and grow more confident in their abilities as their children’s first and best teachers. Family involvement is a key factor in developing children’s reading skills.
  • Students benefit by receiving additional reading support at home, making connections between text and real world activities, and developing an enthusiasm for reading.
  • Literacy Backpacks can reach families that do not typically participate in school-based events.
  • One backpack sent home as an example can inspire children and their families to create their own.

Remember that literacy development begins from birth, so even if you care for a child that isn’t in school yet, you can create your own pack of books, artifacts, games, and activities to enjoy and learn together!

If you work at an Alberta Reads school, ask your Literacy Coach for your copy of What’s in Your Backpack?—Calgary Reads’ newest Literacy-in-a-Box modulefor a complete toolkit on building your own literacy backpacks. If you’re interested in running the module, we will send you a box of books and 25 new drawstring backpacks you can use to create your own literacy backpacks.

Research & Resources

Literacy Backpacks in Teacher Education by Robin Bright, University of Lethbridge

Home Literacy Bags Promote Family Involvement by Ann C. Barbour

-Liz’s Early Learning Spot blog contains tips for making “awesomely effective” literacy bags

-Reading Rockets has a large selection of themed reading adventure packs.

Backpack Mockup