Literacy: 5 ways to boost reading with parents

Reading with parents can make a huge difference to children’s literacy – but Ginny Lunn says there are pitfalls to avoid

Ginny Lunn

Parents can make a big difference to their child's literacy – but there are pitfalls for them to avoid

Along with more than 3,000 others across the country, I am a reading volunteer in a primary school, where I work one-to-one with three Year 4 children every week.

I am also managing director of the national reading charity Coram Beanstalk, where I have seen growing demand from schools looking to help parents develop their skills around reading with children.  

We’ve put together a list of five key myths that many adults unconsciously follow – and bearing this in mind can make all the difference to the impact they have on the children they support.

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Myth 1. The best way to help a child to engage with reading is to focus on the reading

We can all appreciate the virtuous circle between children “making friends with reading” and improving attainment and achievement. But they need to be shown that the world of reading is one that they want to enter.

Reading helpers who understand how to use book-based activities that are enjoyable (and more like play) are better able to open that door.

We can effectively develop both narrative skill and vocabulary, for example, by looking at a picture and encouraging the child to say what they think will happen next, limited only by the bounds of their imagination.

Myth 2. When a child is reading independently, there’s no point in us reading to them any more

When we read well to a child of any age, it broadens their reading experience, exposes them to new words and phrases, draws out things that may have gone unnoticed, and whets their appetite for what reading could be.

Any shared reading is an opportunity to entertain, to bond, to enlighten or to inform, to awaken curiosity and to motivate.

reading helping literacy

Myth 3. When children are reading, the main thing is to help them with words they can’t manage

Giving children opportunities to have a go with what they are learning is hugely important, of course. But what they are having a go at is reading, not just decoding.

Reading helpers should encourage, motivate and support a child to read in a way that helps them feel positive and sets them up for success, not just with the words, but in understanding and relating to what has been read.

It can help to give them clues; if you have just heard someone talking about a crocodile, and have looked at a picture of a crocodile, what might that long word beginning with c be?

Myth 4. Picture books are patronising to older children

Books that feel age-inappropriate aren’t likely to engage, but to think that picture books are only for younger children is a mistake. Illustrations, images and graphical elements provide a useful visual scaffold for struggling readers and add to the richness and variety of the reading experience for reluctant ones.

Myth 5. 'I’m an enthusiastic reader – that’s enough for me to be a good reading helper'

The skills and confidence adults need to read really effectively to and with children, to engage with them and to engage them in reading, to check and deepen understanding, to encourage and support them with reading – and not just decoding – are not ones that we acquire just because we read ourselves.  

Consider providing training to parent helpers on an annual basis. This will enable them to feel more confident about the role they are there to do and can help to retain these volunteers beyond their children’s years with the school.

Ginny Lunn is a former primary teacher and managing director of Coram Beanstalk

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