The Literacy Gap: How to Keep Children Engaged in Reading and Writing Over the Summer Break
With the long summer holidays here, how do we find ways of keeping children engaged in literacy activities whilst giving them a genuine break from school? Some children are natural readers and journal writers, but how about the vast swathes of young people for whom these activities feel like more of a chore? It goes without saying that we don’t want to force anything onto our children, but thankfully there are a number of fun ways to keep reading and writing alive for them. Whatever your child’s interests are there, you’ll find lots of inspiration for a summer filled with fun.
Space Chase – Summer Reading Challenge
Few children will fail to feel the buzz around the 50 year anniversary moon landing celebrated this year, and Britain’s libraries have tapped into this excitement. Coined Space Chase, this is the nationwide summer reading challenge for primary school age children whereby kids are encouraged to read six books over the summer break and log them to receive rewards. They don’t just have to be story books: children can read joke books, information books and listen to audio books. If your child registers online, they can find book recommendations, enter competitions, chat to others about what they are reading and play some fun games – all guaranteed to help encourage your young people to take part in this exciting annual fixture brought to all children free of charge.
Click here to discover more about this year’s summer reading challenge.
Buy your child a big scrapbook and encourage them to stick cinema stubs, pressed flowers & leaves, bus tickets or party invitations in it. You can help them by hanging on to anything related to what they are involved in and providing glue and some felt tips or colouring pencils to decorate. Let them know that these books are also for drawing pictures or writing about their day and experiment with telling them that they are their own private books and you won’t look in them. It could be that actually they want your help with adding to it, but you may find that if they are made to feel that it’s their own personal, private space, the words and drawings could flow on a whole new level. I’ll never forget that feeling as a child of my own private world scribbled and sketched in notebooks without the prying eyes of adults.
Most children really enjoy being given a challenge, and creating haiku’s can provide the perfect, bite-sized opportunity to do just that in a short space of time. A haiku is a Japanese poetry form, traditionally written about nature, but the way we are most familiar with them in the West is in its form of three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second line and five again in the third.
To help your kids get going, give them some ideas and themes, such as writing about animals or landscapes. If they are not up for writing them down, experimenting with haikus verbally is just as fun. Challenge them to write the ‘silliest’ haiku or one that uses one or more of the senses. Because of the concise nature of this poetry form, it will get kids thinking about choice of language without even realising it. If they seem to enjoy it, why not even buy a small book and record haiku’s in there from different family members with the name of the writer and place where it was written underneath? We have been doing this in our family for years and our haiku books are now treasured possessions and opening an old one evokes a whole kaleidoscope of memories.
It may sound counter-productive, but research on boredom spawning creativity has burgeoned over recent years, and what better time than the summer holidays to let children be bored? Whenever my eight year old son tells me he is bored (a not infrequent occurrence), I don’t provide him with anything to do and listen for a while to his protestations at my lack of intervention to remedy this. But after a while, he goes quiet and always, always finds something to do and quite often, this ‘something’ is something more inventive and creative than anything I would have suggested to him myself. For a particularly good article on why boredom is good for your child, plus numerous techniques for detoxing on structure, click here.
I’m a big fan of this website, created by a mother who couldn’t find an engaging book club online for her own children. Wonderful for book recommendations from other children and parents alike as well as numerous opportunities to win books, this is a great site to come to for your child to pen reviews, even short ones, of books they have read. The format is so user-friendly and fun (with plenty of opportunities for emoji inclusion!) that it may even have your child requesting to write more book reviews!
If you travel anywhere, buy postcards and suggest to your kids that they send them to friends, cousins, grandparents or anyone else they feel like. Let them choose their own postcards from the display and definitely don’t correct spelling mistakes – people love to receive postcards no matter the spelling! That being said, if they would like help with spelling certain words, then of course do help. Even writing a couple of cards over the summer break, particularly for any reluctant writers, will give a great boost to their writing confidence. And you never know how a child may be inspired to continue writing beyond the limited space of a postcard.
Read to your children!
It really doesn’t matter how old your kids are: don’t stop reading to them. When my eldest child was around the age of seven, she decided she didn’t want to be read to anymore as she loved reading her own books. But I continued to read to her younger brother and sister and noticed how she would sidle in to listen if I chose a great story (which, of course, I always did!). Now, fast-forward six years, I still read to all three of them before bed and it’s a precious, enriching time for us all. If you think that your child just wouldn’t be willing, I’d urge you to not discount it before you give it a go. Storytelling is in our blood and listening to different worlds spilling from the lips of another is as old as our human race itself.
Keep it light and spontaneous!
More importantly than any of the ideas I have mentioned above, keep reading and writing over the long break light and spontaneous. If your child is simply not engaging in any literacy activities that you provide them with, don’t panic: keep modelling reading and writing. Share jokes, riddles, poems and stories with them. Leave books and comics of all kinds lying around in different corners of your home and don’t forget, words and language acquisition come in so many shapes and forms and your child will be dipping into the richness of the language treasure trove in countless less obvious ways.