Supporting reading and writing at home
If your child isn't making progress with reading, it can be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps he/she doesn't enjoy reading, or maybe the books they're reading at the moment are too difficult for them.
Your child's school will be able to help with suggestions about books at the appropriate level for your child; if you're in doubt, you can also ask at your local library.
Reading to your child
Reading aloud to children can help them to enjoy stories they might struggle to read themselves. This helps reluctant readers by removing the pressure.
You can try sharing the reading, so you read one line and your child reads the next. Once your child's confidence has begun to increase, you can take turns at reading one page each.
Research shows that reading with your child is the single most important thing you can do to help your child's education.
It's best to read little and often, ie a few pages every day.
Reading and writing are interlinked, so the better a child is at reading, the better they'll be at writing. You can help your child improve their writing skills by mkaing sure they read a variety of books, comics and magazines.
Writing is tricky because it involves several elements (thinking about content, handwriting, spelling, punctuation and grammar). To help your child, you may need to work out which part of the writing process they find difficult. Again, talk to his/her class teacher as they will be able to give suggestions of useful approaches and activities.
Many children get alarmed when faced with a blank page. Sometimes it helps to give them paper that has a picture border around it. This can spark children's interest and make the writing space more manageable.
Supporting with ideas
Some children need support with ideas for writing. You can help by playing language games and telling stories. These oral activities help children develop their vocabulary, which in turn enriches their writing. It's a virtuous circle.
It's also important to encourage your child to talk through their ideas before writing them down. This gives them an opportunity to organise their thinking and sequence their ideas.
It's not uncommon for children to be reluctant to put pencil to paper for fear of making mistakes. They may worry about getting the words 'right'. You need to give them 'permission' to make mistakes. Explain that the spelling is not the important part and that you're more interested in their ideas. You can free them to write in several ways:
- Ensure the activity is fun — write shopping lists, write messages on the fridge with letter magnets, make cards (Thank you, Birthday, etc).
- Make simple books together (you could use photos, pictures from magazines or your child could draw his/her own pictures). You could make a book about when they were a baby, about a family holiday or you could write a short story together.
- Make the writing task more manageable, eg you write one line and he/she writes the next. Over time your child should increase in confidence and be able to take over more of the writing.
- Magic line — if your child gets stuck with a word and will not have a go, encourage them to use their phonic knowledge to put down any letters they think might be in the word. This might just be the first letter. Get them to put a short magic line for the rest of the word. For example: 'I w... to the p...' ('I went to the park.') This helps to keep the flow of writing going. Gradually, their confidence will increase and they will be more willing to put down a few more letters for unknown words.
- Make sure your child knows that crossings out don't matter. You want your child to have the confidence to write, so it is not about getting the word 'correct'.
Helping with stories
When helping young children to write a story, get them to draw three pictures: beginning, middle and end. They can then tell you the story and you can help them to extend it by asking them questions.
For example: Who is the main character? Where do they live? What happens to the character? How do they feel?
Older children could draw a storyboard. This is similar to a comic strip and can be used to talk through their ideas.
Some questions you can ask are: Where is the story set? What's the place like? What's the main event? How are the problems sorted out? What have the characters learned at the end?
The process for non-fiction writing is very similar, ie it's vital children have an opportunity to talk through their ideas. You could ask them what facts they know or you could do a 'Tell me' activity. For example:
- If children are working on writing instructions - 'Tell me how to make a...'
- Recount writing - 'Tell me what happened first, next, last', etc
- For explanatory writing - 'Tell me how a... works'
- For persuasive writing - 'Tell me why you think... is a good idea.'