The beginnings of reading

It’s Children’s Book Week this week, which I’ve become aware of mainly through twitter and other parenting blogs. I’ve been thinking about writing a post about Andrew’s reading anyway, so I thought this would be good timing to join in with the fun.

Andrew has always been interested in books, right from flicking though board books with us as a baby to sitting down on his own and talking through what he can see on the page of his ‘big boys’ books’ (to differentiate from Joel’s baby books). He doesn’t sit down and ‘read’ for hours on end at a time – his general philosophy to playing is spend a bit of time here, a bit of time there, getting as many toys, books and puzzles out as possible and not committing himself to any activity for more than 5 minutes but often coming back full circle to what he started with after going round them all. But he does enjoy sitting and reading, both with us and on his own.

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Over the past month or so he has consolidated his knowledge of the letters of the alphabet that he’s been interested in ever since we started reading the Ladybrird Cosy Cat alphabet book to him over a year ago. He knows all the letters and can tell you what they are both randomly pointed at in words and going through from A to Z in context. This is the beginnings of him learning to read. Now he has the foundation of single letters, he can build on this and learn how letters join together to make written words.

As well as reading books, he is very keen on watching the ‘Alphablocks’ on DVD – this CBeebies programme is all about learning to read, with little blocks that each have a letter of the alphabet and their own character, who get up to all sorts of adventures and make words along the way by holding hands and saying their individual sounds out loud. It’s quite ingenious in my opinion, and Andrew adores it! We try not to let him watch too much on screen, but when it’s something like this, I really don’t mind him watching it in sensible quantities. He also has an Alphablocks magazine that Granny bought him, which has various activities in, and this is encouraging him to understand how we write letters as well as read them.

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As with other aspects of parenting, we have been very child-led in this part of his development – he has shown interest in reading and we have followed his lead and also encouraged him that it is a good thing to do. When we had his 2.5 year check (a little late) with the health visitor recently, she said he was doing very well to know all the letters at his age, which is good to know, as I didn’t really have much clue about time scales for children’s literacy. Hopefully this will stand him in good stead for starting pre-school next year.

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With this background of finding out that Andrew is doing well for his age, I was particularly shocked to read some stats on the disparity in attainment between infant school age kids from poorer and better off backgrounds which were published in the Too Young to Fail report by Save the Children earlier this week:

• Fewer than one in six children from low-income families who have fallen behind by the age of seven will go on to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
• Better off children who are behind are more likely to go on to achieve well – but even they only have a one in four chance of getting five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
• If a child from a poor family is already behind with their reading at the age of seven, they have just over a one in five chance of going on to achieve a C in English at GCSE.

Basically if children are achieving at the lower end of the range already at the end of Key Stage 1 (up to 7 years), then they are highly likely to go on to fail when it comes to GCSEs and not get the qualifications they need to enter many forms of employment. Children from poorer backgrounds are at more of a disadvantage in this, and in these stats the problem is particularly highlighted for reading ability.

This made me think about how we have encouraged Andrew with reading. We take it for granted that we have lots of children’s books, most of which have been given to us by family and friends as presents. Just having these around from the beginning of his life has shown him that reading is normal, fun and something we do every day. I can imagine that this is not the case in families that struggle to pay the bills, get food on the table and clothe their children, so books would be much lower on their priority list and the children would not get such an introduction to the concept of reading at a very early age. Also, we take it for granted that our own parents read to us as children, and this means it’s something we have just automatically done with our own children, because we know how much we enjoyed it and how it helped us learn (even if we can’t remember the very beginnings of reading with our parents). I can imagine that parents who themselves struggle to read, maybe because they too had little opportunity to read from an early age, would be less likely to sit down and read with their children, and so it would become a vicious circle from generation to generation. And none of this is fair on the children (who then become adults) involved.

There are people out there trying to help in this situation though, and I have been reading about Save the Children’s Born to Read initiative in partnership with Beanstalk. The aim is to provide many more reading helpers in schools in deprived areas, as well as support parents to help their children’s reading skills develop at home. When I think that there may well be children the same age as Andrew who live just a few streets away who are getting such a different start in life in terms of reading and literacy, it really hits home just how real a problem this is and just how important this kind of work is. I will be following their progress and trying to stay aware of this issue as much as I can.