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EXPERT OPINION: Improving young people’s literacy skills – Alison Delaney

 

According to the National Literacy Trust, lacking vital literacy skills holds a person back at every stage of their life, and just over a half of children (58%) in the UK are reported to have said they ‘enjoy’ reading. As an author, a businesswoman, a mother, and a grandmother, these statistics truly shock me.

When I founded Little Bird and wrote my book, Little Chick Has Lunch On The Moon, I wanted to create a movement that nurtures, encourages, and challenges young people. I wanted them to know they could do anything, that they should believe in the power of their dreams, and that the world of creativity is a space in which they can spread their wings and fly. It’s these figures that I want to change; but I know that I cannot do it alone.

From my work with children in UK schools and abroad, and from my own experiences growing up and raising my daughter, I have seen firsthand the value of storytelling, reading, and creating. In a world of iPads, mobile phones, and the internet, how do we keep the magic of imagination alive? I’ve put together my top-tips for reigniting a love for reading:

TIP 1: Make time for guided reading and turn it into a routine:

Many parents feel that guided reading has a limited lifespan and stops when our children get to an age where they can read to themselves, but continuing to do this as they grow older is actually really important! So many of us are juggling the events life throws at us, so I understand there are times we can find reading to our children a chore rather than a privilege. However, this is such a special time for us to engage in a wonderment of exploration and imaginative conversation. Finding 15 minutes just after dinner or just before bed to read with them can make all the difference. After all, the bigger you can dream, the bigger the world becomes!

TIP 2: Engage your inner child:

Being an adult is tough. We’re expected to be sensible and do as we’re told all the time! Most of my greatest adventures and memories are from my childhood and I’m at my most creative when I engage my inner child. As adults we often expect our children to see things from our perspective and then become frustrated when they don’t comply. It’s much more fun, and fruitful for our children, if we accept the invitation into their world and learn about their perspectives on life, where there are no limitations to what can be achieved!

TIP 3: Become the passion and excitement within the story:

Have you ever sat and listened to someone share a story without passion? We don’t listen for very long do we? What I love about our children is the instant feedback they share: you might say they’re distracted when they don’t listen; I say we’re lacking passion and excitement. We need to take a look at ourselves before we blame them, and ask whether we’re giving the story the passion it deserves. This also helps with comprehension, as hearing words aloud in context helps little ones who struggle to retain meanings. The National Literacy Trust reports that just over a half of children in the UK ‘enjoy’ reading – perhaps if we convey stories in a more interesting way, our children will be more engaged and interested to discover more about what you’re sharing with them during story time.

TIP 4: Be flexible:

I receive many videos from parents reading my book, Little Chick Has Lunch On The Moon, to their children which is simply beautiful. A number of them stick in my mind based on the pressure the parent has put on themselves to read the book from start to finish, one page at a time with no deviation. I understand we want to conform to the way in which society suggests we should read. However, the purpose of a story is that we can explore and lose ourselves in magical conversation. We should be led by the listener or by our own thoughts and feelings, and we need to ensure we guide our Little Chicks to develop this. This should also be reflected in what you’re reading: although as adults we have chosen our interests and tend not to deviate, your Little Chicks are still blank canvases. Exposing them to a wide variety of materials will help them find their own interests and these passions will encourage them to pursue their learning.

TIP 5: Pass the story on:

I love to hear stories that people share because I love being carried away with their passion and fluidity. My inspiration comes from listening to the adaptation of individual views. Our children are experts in this field, as their organic interpretation of the world around them allows them to offer a perspective unlike any other. Receiving these stories and sharing our own is what connects us and makes the world go around so let it out and make the world a better place.

And finally… Work with, not against, schools:

Complement your Little Chick’s learning by educating yourself about what they are studying. For example, if your child isn’t interested in reading but is passionate about science, read books that build on this fascination. Non-fiction books, stories of fantastical concoctions, biographies of scientists from the past, all make for materials that build on your child’s learning and they will start to look forward to reading without necessarily even realising it.

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