We all understand that reading and writing play an essential part in learning – in fact, literacy is a fundamental foundation and framework for all aspects of education. Literacy development is the key to your child’s ability to engage, not only in education, but in society in general. Literacy skills give children the confidence to communicate with others, to think analytically, engage in critical thinking, and grasp new concepts with cognitively flexibility. Without these basic skills, children are unlikely to excel in school and in later studies.
With a very long holiday looming, you have the perfect opportunity to really explore literacy with your child in a way that will create a passion for books and reading and instil a love of literacy that really will last a lifetime.
Accomplish this and see how their general education begins to take flight when they return to school.
It’s a well-known fact that children have a much larger capacity for learning than adults, which is why it is so important to create the desire in your child to seek out books early on and engage them in a continual process of wanting to learn new words and literacy skills.
If you needed a further incentive, according to a study by the UK Literacy Trust, children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have robust mental well-being.
So, here are a few ideas to keep you busy this holiday…
Explore the art of storytelling
We all know how children love to play and use their imagination to tell stories, create elaborate ‘play’ scenarios, and express themselves generally. Notice how they love to tell you all about new words they have learned, and how excited they are to put these new words into practice.
Leverage this natural ability by encouraging storytelling. This is a powerful strategy for improving children’s writing and creative thinking abilities as it does not offer any restraints. For younger children who have not yet learned to write, just have fun making up stories together and exploring the sounds of the words they are using. You can also use this method to build vocabulary, by discussing the meaning of a word and looking at different ways of saying the same thing.
To help you keep the ideas flowing, try offering your child a few random objects (or pictures of objects) and ask them to create a story around them. You can make it more fun by making a bag of different items and asking them to select one ‘blindly’ from the bag. You can even create separate bags of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ contents and have them pick an object from each bag. For example, this could form the basis of a story about a space man, who has a purple monkey and lives in caravan. The stranger the objects, the more creative their stories will be!
Put on a show
Many children love to perform for you, so another fantastic way to engage your child or children in talking and storytelling is to have them put on a show! Give them a framework to work to, which encourages them to write or plan a story first, then act it out using props, or maybe even puppets. As well as fostering creativity, this will help boost their language skills and build their vocabulary in a way that simply feels like play. This also has a very positive impact on their general self-confidence.
Simply does it
Now, we know you won’t be in the mood for story games and pantomime every day of the week, so mix it up with some very simple activities that are also extremely effective.
Activities such as singing nursery rhymes, playing a game of “I spy”, rhyming word games, treasure hunts with written clues etc.
Make writing fun
Finding ways to make writing exciting for children is often a tricky task. Try making up some prompt cards they can use to get started and write sentences or short stories, depending on their ability.
These might include openings such as:
I went to the beach, and I played…
When I was at the zoo, I saw…
If I could fly I would…
If I was invisible, I would…
One day I want to visit…
You can encourage your child to talk about their ideas first, then write them down and draw pictures to make it more fun.
If you have more than one child, or your child has friends over, try having them write a story together by each writing the first sentence, then swapping or rotating and have the children take turns, swapping after each sentence to create the story. This is a great way to get them thinking about what has already been written and make decisions on how to continue the story. The stories will naturally be weird and wonderful, which will provide much amusement and engagement. We bet they will continue doing this of their own volition once they get the hang of it.
One inventive mum we know of used to write her daughter a note at the end of each day, to tell her what she had enjoyed that they had done that day, something that made her laugh, or how proud she was of something her child had achieved. She would leave this by her daughter’s bed every night so she could read it in the morning. It wasn’t long before her daughter started to reciprocate and leave a note for her mum before she went to bed. This is a lovely way to encourage writing and exploring new words to properly describe what your child wants to say, as well as creating a very strong bond between parent and child.
If you do try this though, please don’t ask your child to reciprocate, they will do so in their own time, and you may jeopardise the initiative if you push it too soon.
Draw me a picture
If your child prefers drawing to writing, you will have more success engaging their creativity with drawing games, rather than trying to force the issue with writing. If they feel comfortable, their skills will develop, and they will get to writing as they progress.
Ask your child to draw a picture of some favourite stories and ask them to just write names or some words that help to bring the story to life with their picture. Again, you can use the pictures to have your child re-create the story with a new twist and add more pictures and new characters, which they will need to name. How about having your child draw each of the characters in the story individually, then creating new scenes and mixing up the characters to create a new story?
If your child is very young, you can even download printables from the internet and ask them to colour in the pictures if they don’t feel so confident in drawing pictures of their own.
Revitalise reading time
One of the best ways to improve literacy skills is by encouraging a love of books and maintaining that love. Interaction when reading is important, even for babies and toddlers, so start off with board books, lift the flap books etc., that have tactile elements and sounds.
Using finger puppets or characters can also help to bring the story to life and make the experience more enjoyable. As your child gets older it’s fun to encourage them to try different voices for different characters. You can also weave discussions into your reading sessions and ask them questions about each character, what they think about the places they live or visit, what the weather is doing, etc. This helps them engage much more in the story.
If your child is tired, or is not keen on reading generally, don’t underestimate the value of reading to them. Listening to a story will help your child develop their vocabulary, as well as their ability to listen and concentrate and connect sounds and words. You can stop and discuss the story at intervals to check their understanding, and discuss words and their meanings, as well as sounds and similar sounding words. If you read a favourite book regularly, discuss how they might make the story more interesting by adding a new character, or making a different ending to expand their imagination.
By introducing children to a diverse range of books, including fairy tales, funny stories, adventures, factual books, poems, and historical tales, you will improve their ability to understand a wide variety of concepts and the world around them.
Team up with technology
With devices such as iPads, smartphones and e-readers present in everyday life, we certainly cannot ignore technology. There are some good literacy apps and websites out there but beware of any that rely on memory-based learning and word acquisition and seek out those that focus on letter and word sounds.
Here are a few we would recommend: Word Mania and Hopster are fun and educational apps that will engage your young child.
For older children, word search games and crossword puzzles are beneficial too.
Our final thoughts
As a parent, your role in establishing fertile ground for the growth of your child’s literacy learning is a vital one and will help them to thrive at school. Your main goal should be to develop an enthusiasm for literacy, creating a rich and inviting environment that fully immerses your child in the learning experience with joy. Achieve this and you will be well on the way to helping them acquire the all-important skills and knowledge that will have them set for life.
At I Can Read, our approach to learning is fun and experiential, in very small groups, which will give your child the essential skills required for literacy success. We love working in partnership with parents to establish total literacy learning. You can find more information on our programmes here.
And if you are looking for holiday activities for your children that are both educational and great fun, check out our holiday programmes here.
You can also request our series of Literacy Guides that will help to keep your child engaged and entertained during the break.
Wishing you all a magical Christmas and New Year break.