Home-schooling; Literacy learning during lockdown
What can parents do to improve literacy?
Many parents had to get involved in home-schooling by default due the recent pandemic crisis. In this situation, we can feel paralysed by not knowing how to teach and what to teach our children or we can be overwhelmed with the abundance of advice that comes at us from the social media and the Internet.
Even though there are a lot of literacy resources available online, it is time-consuming for parents to look through them. Worksheets and activities might require the use of printers which are not available in every house. Paper, printer ink and other office supplies are expensive and not easy to come by these days.
The good news is that we do not need to focus on traditional activities to promote literacy learning. Research indicates that learning letters and sounds by pre-schoolers will not have a lot of impact on their reading and writing skills at school. However, the size of children’s vocabulary, their spoken language skills will make a big difference.
So what can parents do at home to improve their children’s literacy?
Say more than necessary
This is the one most important rule both educators and parents need to observe when they try to consciously promote children’s oral language development and literacy. Run a commentary about the activity or experience as it is happening. Make links between children’s current activities and prior learning. Articulate your own thought processes to teach them how we use language for thinking.
Games like “I spy”, “Simon said”, rhymes and songs are very useful in building children’s vocabulary. The number of nursery rhymes a three year old knows is a good predictor of their later literacy achievement in school.
Older children might enjoy a game when each member can draw a card with a topic which they have to speak about for one minute. This is a fun activity where the whole family can get involved and learn from each other.
Read for pleasure
While we all know about benefits of reading with children and how important reading is for language development, we should not overlook the importance of reading for leisure ourselves. If children see that adults around them enjoy reading, they will develop positive disposition towards reading. Therefore, do not feel guilty if you want to sit down in arm-chair with a book. You are actually teaching your children how to enjoy reading.
Get together for meal times
Not having to rush for afterschool activities provides a perfect opportunity to make a point of having family meals together. This is the time when very interesting conversations can occur, older children can get a chance to develop their spoken language skills while younger children will have an opportunity to tune into the language they can hear and learn through listening and observation. None of the five year olds last year would have been familiar with the words “quarantine” and “social distancing”, while now they are firmly in each child’s vocabulary.
According to research, learning is not all in the mind, it requires a range of physical skills. Regular play- and home-based activities like digging, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying shopping, pulling weeds, rolling, crawling, dancing, brushing teeth and getting dressed, as well as games that involve clapping, stomping, hopping, galloping and skipping provide opportunities for children to master balance, proprioception, crossing the midline as well as sensory awareness and integration. These are vital for children’s ability to learn to sit still, to focus and pay attention which are prerequisites for all learning. In addition, matured physical skills and capabilities are required to use our bodies and muscles in order to speak, read and write.
As you can see a lot of our daily activities actually supporting our children’s literacy development and while they cannot learn “the letter of the week” in circle time at their preschool, we can still provide learning opportunities for them at home and most of us are doing it anyway.
About the author
After moving to Ireland and having her own family, Iryna Fox developed a strong interest in Early Childhood Education and Care. She qualified as a Montessori teacher and worked in Irish preschools.
With the need to juggle family and work life makes her more understanding of students with similar commitments and any possible concerns towards completing a degree programme.
Iryna worked as a tutor at Portobello before commencing her PM role. Now working in this role allows Iryna to combine her higher education background with a real passion for advancement of Early Childhood Care and Education. Read more about Iryna here
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Hart, B. & Risley, T., (2003) "The Early Catastrophe: the 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3". American Educator, 27(1), pp. 4-9. Read the full article here
Marzano, R. (2004) Building background knowledge for academic achievment: research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Read further information on this book here
McEvoy, J. (2019) "Communication and Language", in McMahon, S. and Dyer, M. (eds) Advanced work-based practice in the early years. London and New York: Routledge.
Neaum, S.(2017) What Comes Before Phonics? London: Sage. Read more about the author here