Supporting your child with rebuilding literacy confidence
“Much has been said about whether or not children need to ‘catch up’ at school after homeschooling, and it’s natural that having been in lockdown for so long, their confidence across the curriculum may have been knocked.
Literacy is one of the areas in which children may have lost confidence, despite your best efforts to keep them learning at home.
They might stumble over phonics concepts that they were previously secure with, or struggle with their handwriting after weeks of working predominantly on screens. Their reading progress may have stalled without their usual reading scheme books, or they might have become reticent about speaking out in class.
The impact on children’s literacy over lockdown is currently uncertain. ‘Based on research after the first lockdown, we know that some children will have lost ground in literacy, but it appears that around a third may have made gains,’ says Prof Gemma Moss, Professor of Literacy and Director of the International Literacy Centre, UCL Institute of Education.
‘The good news is that those children who have slipped are likely to bounce back very quickly.’
Rebecca Deeny of UK Reads, the charity focusing on children impacted by illiteracy, agrees. ‘A child’s confidence in their learning can be rebuilt with time, patience and the right support,’ she says.
Rhetoric about children having ‘fallen behind’ or becoming a ‘lost generation’ is understandably worrying to us as parents, but teachers are keen to ease children back into learning rather than put pressure on them to catch up.
‘They’re much more concerned about pupils’ wellbeing, and are focusing on getting children back into the routine of school and helping them start socialising again,’ explains Gemma. ‘Once kids have settled back in, their confidence and ability in literacy will come back together.’
This is carefully managed so they don’t feel they’ve regressed: teachers might describe it as ‘reminding ourselves’ or ‘refreshing our memory’ rather than ‘going backwards’ or ‘catching up.’
Literacy in schools isn’t just about practising phonics or handwriting: it’s embedded across the curriculum, and right now, teachers are likely to be using this broad approach more than ever.
Art lessons, for instance, could include talking about materials, textures and colours, introducing new vocabulary. PE might include learning a new game or sport, like hockey or cup-stacking, which involves following instructions. Music could focus on describing and comparing pieces, improving listening skills and using descriptive and comparative language.
‘This can be very effective as children learn best when they’re being active and having fun,’ Rebecca says.
Throughout everything, pupils will be given opportunities to talk: fundamental to improving their wellbeing by expressing themselves, and developing speaking and listening skills.
Talk of children having regressed in literacy is bound to make parents feel guilty about not putting in enough effort during lockdown, but it’s important that you don’t blame yourself.
But even the small things you’ve been able to do will have kept your child’s literacy ticking over. ‘All children learn to read and write at different stages, even when we’re not in a pandemic.’ says Gemma.
That means that if your child has lost confidence in literacy, there’s plenty you can do to build them back up again. Read together regularly, if you can, and talk about what you read. This is one of the simplest ways to bolster your child’s reading confidence, and as little as 10 minutes a day can make a big difference.
Your child may bring reading books home, and it’s important to work through these to help them progress, but you can also read picture books, comics, graphic novels: anything that captures their attention. ‘The great thing about literacy is the more you do it, the more your child practises, and the more they learn,’ Gemma explains.
Learning to read isn’t just about decoding the words on the page; it’s also important that your child understands what they’re reading. If they don’t, it’ll feel like a chore rather than a pleasure.
So take the time to chat about what you’re reading. ‘Discussing a book – even just describing the pictures if reading is too daunting – improves children’s vocabulary and verbal skills and helps them find the words to communicate their emotions better,’ says Rebecca.”