Three Ways to Boost Your Child’s Literacy Skills at Home
1. Routine Reading for Pleasure
A wide range of research has shown that parents who help their children to get hold of books they enjoy, find a quiet place to read and discuss what they read with their children, have a significant impact upon their child’s literacy development.
In one study (Brooks, 2013), researchers found that parents who read for ten minutes every night with their child were able to help them improve their literacy levels by almost two years in only six months (even if the parents didn’t speak English very well themselves). In another, they found that the reading for pleasure habits of children had more impact upon their school outcomes and eventual earnings as adults than the wealth of their parents, the quality of their school and the achievement of their peers. (Department of Education, 2012) When children read recreationally, they have higher general knowledge, more academic capital, greater social and emotional intelligence, improved concentration, lower stress and wider psychological wellbeing.
So, the number one thing that a parent can do to support their child’s development at this time, is to set a routine time each day/week where the screens go off, the mobile phones go away, and the family sits down for a read. Help them find books they’ll be interested in, go for a hard copy rather than a screen and if you get a chance, talk about it afterwards. It might take some bribery to get started, but it is well worth the early struggle to achieve the life long benefits.
2. Supporting Writing
Finding the balance as a parent between helping too much and not helping enough, can be challenging at the best of times. With the popularisation of terms like ‘helicopter parent’ and the psychological challenges children face during adolescence, it’s not always clear how much help we should be giving (or how much will be appreciated when it’s offered). Here are a few ways to help with the accuracy of writing, without taking over too much:
- Read through your child’s written work and don’t correct it, but just put a mark where you think there might be an accuracy issue or an opportunity for improvement (a highlighted dot in blue in the margins, or on a screen just bold the first word of the line). Tell them you’ll do this and then they can see if they can work it out. This way whatever they fix is still their own work.
- Boost confidence in writing, by reading their work but not always discussing accuracy. Yes, we should fix this sometimes, but writing is about communication, and adults can really boost engagement and interest in writing by asking questions about what is actually being written about, by being interested in the content more than just the way it is written.
- Praise the effort rather than intelligence or outcome. Professor Carol Dweck’s (Stanford University) work on ‘growth mindsets’ found that children who are praised for their efforts eventually learn how to grow intelligence and are much more resilient and determined. Alternatively, those who are praised for ‘intelligence,’ ‘being a good writer’ or ‘good work’ tend to be more focused on their own ability and grow up less resilient and less able to work hard towards strong outcomes. (Read more here)
- Make sure they are regularly writing with a pen in their exercise books. Research has shown that students who only write on computers actually decline in their ability to self edit spelling, grammar and punctuation because the computer does it for them. Encourage your child to write with a pen wherever possible; even helping to write a shopping list, or planning their day in their planner with a pen, can start to help them build more independent writing skills.
- Great writing uses great vocabulary – parents can help support students to improve their vocabulary through encouraging them to use innovative vocabulary websites like Quizlet and Vocabulary.com or by making good old fashioned flashcards.
3. Rich Discussion
In our busy lives it isn’t always possible for families to have the time to talk about values and beliefs. So, some children grow up learning about issues, values and beliefs more from Netflix and the internet than their own parents and carers. This time is a great opportunity to start some discussions with your children around what they think about some of the key issues in Australia and globally today. The goal isn’t ever to tell them what to think, but to develop their ability to think critically and to sustain a line of reasoning that makes sense and is based on credible evidence (something probably more important in today’s world than ever before). In educational theory this is referred to as developing the ‘philosophy of children,’ a term first coined by Mathew Lipman. Start to learn about your child’s reasoning skills by asking them some of these questions:
- What do you think about capital punishment?
- Can a government be too caring?
- Do you think criminals choose a life of crime, or do they just fall into it?
- Is it wrong to believe you are absolutely right about something?
- Why do some people do terrible things believing that they are doing the right thing?
- Is human nature more about love, hate or something else?
- Are the most popular people the best people to be popular?
- Is prejudice instinctual, or social?
- Has nationalism done more good than harm in the history of humanity?
- Is society becoming more fair and equal, or less so?
- What matters more to you, truth, power or happiness?
- Does democracy really work? Should voting be compulsory?
- Are there times when a white lie is ok?
- Would you break the law to save a friend/family member?
We hope you find some of these tips useful alongside all the fantastic support we are seeing from many of you already in the Mordialloc Community. Also, if you would like some further literacy support for your child please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we have a team of staff who are very dedicated to supporting the literacy development of your children, including our literacy intervention specialists and Ms Biss, our speech pathologist who is continuing to meet with students 1-1 across this time.
Literacy Lead Teacher and Head of English