1) Tips for Parents in a Pandemic: Reading and Literacy

By Janet Goodall

All over the world, parents and carers are 9781472976611suddenly finding themselves on the very frontlines of their children’s learning; schools are closed or their days greatly reduced and children are at home for most if not all of the time. But learning doesn’t stop because schools are closed (any more than children stop learning during the holidays – it’s just more obvious now!).

In this series of blog posts, I’ll be making suggestions about how to support learning for children and young people at home. But first, there are some very important points to make:

  • Parents who are not professional teachers are not going to become professional teachers overnight and no one should be expected to, and no one should expect to do so! You don’t need to be a professional teacher to support learning.
  • There is no point in attempting to ‘carry on as normal’ – these are not normal times. Your child is not missing out on schooling that other children are getting. Everyone is missing out on classroom-based schooling.
  • Classrooms and homes are not the same thing and can’t be. Classrooms are set up for large groups of children who are all more or less the same age. It’s very unlikely your home has the same sort of group of children. What you can provide for your children is personalised support for their learning. It’s quite likely that school staff are providing help with the content of what needs to be learned; parents need to support that learning, not supplant it.

In this blog post, I would like to focus specifically on reading and literacy. I’m starting with this topic for three reasons. The first is that reading and literacy are the foundations for almost all the rest of learning – once you can read, you’re away! The second is that many parents feel comfortable supporting reading, and the third is that reading with your child (along with a great many other ways of supporting learning) can be fun! So, what can parents be doing to support these skills at home?

  • Children whose parents read, and crucially those who see their parents read, tend to do more reading themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter what parents are reading – it could be books, shopping lists or cereal packets. It’s the act of reading – showing your child you are reading, discussing reading and reading together – that makes the difference.
  • Reading the same book over and over with young children is likely to happen in a lockdown situation and it’s a very good idea! You’ll find that you’re not only reading the book but discussing it – what’s going to happen? What might the characters do next, or instead?
  • Reading and literacy are fundamentally about words, so conversations are vitally important. Talk to your children – even from birth! Teenagers have told us that they value people asking how they are (even if they don’t respond – the act of asking shows you care). Singing nursery rhymes, telling jokes – it’s all words and all useful.
  • If your child is old enough to write, perhaps they could start and keep a diary of what ‘Life in Lockdown’ is like. Or they could dictate it for you to write simple sentences which they could illustrate.
  • If you’re keeping in touch with other family members by phone or electronically, your child could ask someone to tell a story and they could write it down and illustrate it.
  • Very young children need to develop the muscles they’ll need to write – drawing on the walls of the bath with shaving cream at bath time can 9781472955180help with the big muscles, and things like sprinkling decorations on a cake can help with the small muscles.
  • Try ending each day with a round of what everyone has learned that day. Everyone says two things they know now that they didn’t know before (adults included!). This will show your children that you are still learning, that you value learning and that they are still learning, even if they’re not in school.

Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.

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