FAQs about literacy


Does handwriting matter in this day and age?

We write to communicate, so if our handwritten script is illegible we won't be able to get across what we want to say. In that sense handwriting does matter, but the emphasis should be on the written content rather than the presentation as long as it can be read.

Clearly, it's also necessary to develop keyboard skills, but not to the detriment of the handwritten script. Both are important.

Schools aim to support children in producing a clear, legible script. They also provide opportunities for children to develop keyboard skills and some schools teach this explicitly.

Our school doesn't have weekly spelling tests - should it?

Traditionally, many schools have set weekly spelling tests. Frequently, children learn the spellings and do well in the test but then fail to apply their knowledge when producing written work. This could be because the spellings have been selected arbitrarily and aren't necessarily relevant for a particular child.

So in some schools, there has been a move away from a 'one list fits all' weekly test to more individualised/group lists. Tests may still happen but the approach is less formal than the traditional 'class test'.

Children are encouraged to keep spelling logs of tricky words and work in pairs or groups on the words that are directly relevant to them. Spelling is still taught specifically and often an investigative approach is undertaken.

It's important children see the relevance of a word list and the words mean something to them - this way they'll have more chance of remembering and applying the words.

My child says reading is boring. How can I help them to enjoy reading?

Attempt to find out what it is about reading that your child finds 'boring'. Are they trying to hide the fact they're struggling? Are they being challenged too much or insufficiently? Don't they like guided reading? Don't they like the kind of books they're reading?

For many children, particularly boys, non-fiction books are more interesting than fiction books, so reading scheme books don't necessarily match their interests. If this is the case for your child, talk to their teacher, a librarian, or a bookseller and see what books are available to match your child's interests. And, of course, post on the Mumsnet Talk boards to ask for recommendations. 

How can I encourage my child's imagination?

Small children are naturally inquisitive and imaginative but the more you can do to develop these skills the better.

Playing and talking

Give your children opportunities for pretend play. A collection of props can stimulate ideas eg bags, hats, glasses or clothes that you no longer use. 

Make dens - often an old sheet draped across a couple of chairs or a washing line is all that is needed - and your child is transported to another world.

Enjoying books together

Reading to and with your child helps to stimulate their imagination. Talk about the story, discuss the pictures and ask 'what if' questions. What if the boy in the picture suddenly arrived in this room? What do you think we'd find on the moon?

Making up stories

Sometimes tell stories to your child (rather than reading). Ask them to join in by asking what happens next.

  • Start by each person contributing either a word or a sentence in turn, until you build up a (often surreal and amusing) story together.
  • Use a prop to start your story - 'Where do you think this key came from?'
  • Collect a variety of objects, put them into a bag or box and make up a story around them eg old bus tickets, a map, a piece of shiny cloth. 'Who did these belong to?', 'Where were they discovered?'

My son won't write more than a couple of lines. How do I encourage him to fill a page?

To write, you have to have something to say. Does your child know enough about the subject? Will he need to undertake a bit of research?

Related link

Boys' writing

The following suggestions can help your son to get started - being faced with a blank page can be daunting. 

  • Talk through the task. Orally rehearsing what he wants to say can really help before he starts writing because talking helps us to order and clarify our thoughts. He can jot down ideas and notes as you talk if he wishes – it'll give him something to write.
  • Free writing. This is a great warm-up. It's best with pen on paper rather than on the computer. You can do this activity with him. Pick a topic (or use the topic that he's been set) and write non-stop for two minutes on that subject. Write anything, don't worry about style or spelling just get your thoughts down on the page. You'll be surprised at how much you get down in two minutes. You can choose to share your efforts or not, as no-one is going to judge it.
  • Help your son to plan what he wants to say. Create a mind map of the main ideas and use it as the basis for the task. Pick one aspect of the mind map as a subject for free writing.
  • Break the task up into manageable chunks. Give each paragraph a title and do one at a time.
  • Often the first thing we come up with is not the best, particularly when writing a story. You may find that if the first paragraph is abandoned the second paragraph is much more effective.

My daughter is meant to be at Level 4 when she leaves primary school - what does this mean?

Level 4 refers to the National Curriculum level of attainment and is the expected level for children leaving primary school at the age of 11. They should be independent readers and writers, and able to communicate clearly when speaking and be active listeners. This will enable them to access the curriculum at secondary school.

Specifically in English this means:


Children are expected to write independently. They should be able to organise their work into paragraphs and choose appropriate vocabulary for the audience. They should have a clear idea of the reader, and write both simple and longer sentences which are generally correctly punctuated.


Children should be able to read full length books independently. They should be able to read 'between the lines' of a text and be able to predict what may happen. They should have an idea of a writer's intention and point of view. They should be able to read and research using both books and screen texts.

Speaking and listening

They should be able to adapt their speech appropriately to formal and informal situations. They should be able to express themselves clearly and be aware of the audience. They should be aware of how people's spoken language varies.

My child prefers to use computers - is this OK?

It's obviously important to develop keyboard skills, but it's still necessary to be able to put pen to paper and write legibly in a clear, joined hand. Both skills matter and not mutually exclusive.

The internet is an invaluable tool for research. It challenges reading skills as there is so much information available - the skill is in finding what you need and then being able to sift and refine your searches quickly and efficiently.

Initially, children learn this skill (of skimming and scanning) using books, and they need to be able to find their way around non-fiction and fiction texts in paper form. Once again, the two mediums are not mutually exclusive but complementary.

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Last updated: about 3 years ago