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Alex Charalambous, Head of Educational Development at The Children's Literacy Charity, on why we need to champion reading inclusive books for pleasure. Plus, her top tips for making reading together fun!
At The Children’s Literacy Charity, we see day in day out how reading to children has an impact on their literacy development. With children having spent much of this year away from school, the need to offer children more opportunities to read and be read to, and to expose them to high quality picture books and texts, will be much greater to ensure children catch up on their reading skills.
In a report by the National Literacy Trust (January 2019), levels of reading enjoyment decreased in 2017/18 for the first time in six years. This is worrying given the government introduced ‘reading for pleasure’ in the 2014 curriculum. A mere 1 in 8 disadvantaged children, the children we support, own a book at home. This demonstrates why we as a charity, are needed to support those children most in need. Developing core reading skills comes with sharing a book with an adult. Not having books in the early stages of a child’s life leaves children with many challenges in moving forward in their education.
We all have our part to play in championing reading and starting in the home is key. Reading for just 10 minutes a day to your child will make a huge difference in their literacy development.
Reading offers children a broader, rich vocabulary base so even if children are not exposed to standard English language in the home, storybooks and rich language texts can play a big part in supporting the breadth of children’s vocabulary and in supporting reading comprehension. Similarly, if English is a child’s second language, exposing them to rich language texts can enhance their grasp of spoken English. For children who may have social and emotional needs, for those on the autism spectrum or those children who have a difficult home life, reading offers children a chance to seek empathy, connect or to simply create pictures in their mind. Children connect with stories when they find something relatable and it offers them an opening to communicate thoughts and feelings.
Books that promote tolerance and empathy, celebrating differences and valuing each other’s cultural background and ethnicity are beginning to rise on the bookshelves. However, in the 2020 ‘Reflecting Realities’ report by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), 33.5% of the school population were of Black, Asian and minority ethnic origins. In stark contrast, only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority main character. There is still some way to go. For children to see themselves reflecting in texts gives them a greater sense of identify; feeling valued and celebrated. For others, it gives them a chance to learn, understand and see the world through a new lens.
So which picture books do we recommend reading that demonstrate inclusivity and diversity? Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival depicts a little girl with a worry – and it gets bigger and bigger. The story demonstrates how talking about your worries and fears helps you feel better and soon enough, the worries go away. Moira Harvey’s Everybody Feels Shy focuses on being shy and all the feelings that this common emotion stirs up. The two stories, told from a child's point of view, help children identify and understand their feelings through everyday scenarios. In the uplifting Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad, it’s Asiya's first day wearing a hijab and not everyone sees it the same way as she does. The book does a marvellous job in expressing the theme in terms of family pride and self-determination rather than in terms of faith, making the message particularly accessible to all young readers regardless of their background.
We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to read to children regularly and to use diverse texts that give children an insight into this world and how we are all different but fundamentally the same. Let’s give children the best opportunities to learn about themselves and others and books give us that helping hand to get there.
Making the most of quality reading time – Our Top Ten tips
What if you have a child that doesn’t enjoy reading? What can you do to engage them? Here are our top ten tips for enticing children into books:
Thank you, Alex, for your insights and for these great tips! Follow The Children's Literacy Charity on Twitter and on Instagram. Visit their website to learn more about their programmes and how to make a donation. Your support can make a life-changing difference for a child!
Photos 1 and 3 kindly provided by The Children's Literacy Charity
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Alexandra Charalambous is Head of Educational Development at The Children’s Literacy Charity. She has over ten years’ teaching experience in the primary classroom teaching the UK National Curriculum. Alexandra’s expertise lies in phonics and literacy, and in developing teachers’ subject knowledge in a range of literacy areas. Alexandra previously worked as a Primary English lecturer at Middlesex University and has developed her own CPD courses in teacher wellbeing and using their voice effectively in the classroom. Find her on Twitter @love4learningUK