How parents can support literacy at home


Mother and child reading

Learning English (or any other language) is about improving our communication skills. We do this by talking, listening, reading and writing.

As parents, we can help to develop our children's English skills by making language learning part of everyday life.

Help with talk

Talk underpins the development of reading and writing. Children need lots of opportunities to talk and to listen.

A wide oral vocabulary helps to develop confidence and is the key to your child developing as a writer.

Have a look at the suggested activities in Developing vocabulary for some ideas of enjoyable and amusing games that will help to extend your child's vocabulary. These include some well-known traditional games like 'I went shopping and I bought' as well as some new ideas.

  • You might have a 'word of the week'. This could be a word you come across while reading with your child, or it might link with a current school project. How many times does each of you use the word, in the correct context, in a week?
  • With older children, develop the word hunt further by looking up words with similar meanings using the internet or a thesaurus.
  • Talk boxes/Chatterbox: have a 'special box' in which unusual objects are collected. They make a good talking point and this helps to develop imagination.
  • Story boxes/sacks: many schools have ready-made story sacks that match a particular book and include a range of objects from the story. You might try gathering a few props for some favourite tales.

Link reading and writing

Schools try hard to make the link between reading and writing. They encourage children to 'read like a writer' so they can 'write for the reader'.

You can help to make these links more explicit when reading with and to your child. You can do this by:

  • Reading a range of books to your child. Some of these could be more challenging texts than they'd manage alone. This will help develop vocabulary and language sophistication.
  • Giving each character a different voice when you're reading. This is a good model for your child and makes the story more interesting.
  • Pointing out words they may not have come across before and explaining what they mean.

Talk about books

Talk about the books you are sharing - discuss the characters and the story. If it's a picture book, it's important to discuss the pictures with your child. Authors and illustrators work very closely together and sometimes part of the story can actually be in the pictures rather than the text.

Several author/illustrators play 'games' with the reader and have parallel stories - one in the text, the other in the pictures.

Some examples of questions you could ask when talking about books with younger children are:

  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Which part of the story did you like best? Why's that?
  • Who is your favourite character? Why?

If it is an information book, you could ask your child to tell you two new facts they have found. Perhaps they could ask you a question and you could find the information in the book. This is much harder to do but it helps children to think about the information they've read.

For older children, you may want to ask them more detailed questions. You might also want to talk with them about how the writer keeps us reading. How does he/she keep us guessing? Why do we want to find out what happens?

Some other possible questions for fiction books are:

  • Who is the most important character in the story?
  • What sort of character is he/she?
  • Where does the story take place? Is the setting an important part of the story? Why/why not?
  • What are the problems in this story? How do they get sorted out?

For non-fiction books:

  • What's the purpose of this book?
  • Why would you read it?
  • How has the author organised the material in the book?
  • What could you find out from this book?
  • How do you know if the information is accurate?

Visit the library regularly and encourage your child to borrow a range of books including fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as DVDs and CDs, which you can discuss.

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Last updated: about 3 years ago