Throughout the pandemic, teachers, parents and politicians have been asking what children should be learning at home and, as time marches on with some children still not back in school, the question becomes ever more pertinent.
We know already that English and maths are the areas the government – and many teachers – are most concerned about. So, what will children who are still learning at home benefit from doing with regards to English and literacy?
1. Reading for pleasure
The best thing parents can be doing is encouraging their children to read – it’s the well-worn line that teachers always trot out, and there’s a good reason for that.
The benefits of reading are myriad but focusing on the academic benefits, research suggests that reading regularly at primary age improves exam results in the mid-teens.
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Encouraging reading for pleasure should be a key focus of parents with children still at home – indeed, teachers can be supporting parents and children in this, too. Lack of reading material could become an issue but, for many families, there could be ways around this: local libraries often have reading apps where books can be borrowed for free, there are multiple online reading platforms for ebooks and schools could arrange deliveries of books on loan for families who don’t have internet access.
With the summer holidays looming after an extended period away from school, a newly developed love for reading really could make the difference for children returning to class in September: reading for pleasure trumps parents' level of education and socio-economic background when it comes to children’s development.
2. Writing for pleasure
Just as we have discussed reading for pleasure, so we should discuss writing for pleasure.
Having heard from lots of parents about how their children are engaging in the work set by teachers, and having seen my own three children in action, I’d say the pleasure part is very important.
How the writer of The Thick of It got pupils writing for pleasure
A crucial part of returning to school is that children will have had positive experiences of learning in the time they’ve been away.
If parents can encourage children to write for pleasure, with less of a focus on the technical, teachers will easily be able to run with the enthusiasm generated, focusing on grammar, spelling, punctuation and other techniques once the children are back in school.
Parents have been doing an excellent job with their children at home, but most are not qualified teachers. Asking them to teach tricky grammar concepts or even relying on a study guide or website to do this is not always going to result in successful learning.
Better that they are providing irresistible stimuli for writing that children just can’t help but engage in.
As well as the focus on reading and writing for pleasure, a return to the nuts and bolts of literacy that children have learned in previous year groups will be useful.
Rather than teaching anything new, children could use their time at home to work through exercises that allow them to practice prior learning – this could provide a more solid foundation for their return to school.
Working through a workbook of the previous year’s objectives or following some work from online providers could supplement their reading and writing for pleasure and could provide some more structured work opportunities.