Literacy is fundamental to being part of our modern world - we need listening, speaking, reading, writing, and media skills to do everything from checking and writing social media posts to following a recipe. If you have ever gotten an email with grammar or spelling errors, the author’s poor writing skills probably distracted you from the message and you may have formed a negative opinion of their abilities. When we speak well, write well, and listen to others carefully and critically, we are regarded highly. When we understand how to deconstruct the biases and perspectives of others, we are better informed and less likely to be misled. In other words, being able to decode, analyze, create, and communicate effectively are some of the most important skills our kids can develop.
Why is it important to support our kids’ literacy environment outside of school? Sure, your kids have language arts classes and practice their language skills in the other subjects they study, but seldom do they get the kind of individualized attention and practice it takes to enrich their literacy development. And let’s be honest - we want our kids to be competitive in their learning especially when it’s time to think about post secondary education. The more we support their literacy development outside the classroom, the better they will be equipped to excel in a challenging university environment. If you have a child that is struggling in their writing and reading, it is all the more important that you support their language development.
Creating a Literacy Rich Home
Supporting your kids with literacy starts with your home: create a literacy rich environment where your kids can be surrounded with opportunities for reading, writing, and talking. Offer your kids books based on topics they are interested in - they need to understand that reading is for fun, not just school. Keep bookshelves around your home for favourite titles and new topics, or leave books for your kids to explore on coffee or bedside tables. If you prefer not to buy books, make the library a regular ritual every two weeks. Make your library or bookstore trips an event to look forward to, by adding a trip to a favourite coffee shop or ice cream parlour! Make independent, fun reading part of a daily or weekly schedule: read with your child or alongside them, so they see you modeling the behaviours you want them to emulate.
Keep a dictionary or thesaurus in your home, or have a couple sites bookmarked in your family computer. When your child has a writing assignment, make sure that everyone in the home respects the need for quiet time to focus - writing is hard work to do when there are lots of distractions around! Be there to give your child feedback or proofread their assignments.
Have you got a reluctant reader in your home? Learn how to help your child in our latest article.
Take the time to talk to your kids about books and ask them to tell you what they are reading about, whether it is a magazine, a novel, or a manual. When you watch a TV show or movie together, talk about what you liked or disliked about it. If you can get them talking and summarizing books in conversation, it will definitely help them with their language work in school!
Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, and Media Literacy
Now that we’ve explored why literacy is important and how you can support it in your home, let’s dig deeper into the main components of any Language Arts curriculum: reading, writing, oral communication, and media literacy. For each component, we will explore some tips for engaging even the most reluctant of learners!
Focusing on Reading
Reading is complex, and the act of reading goes far beyond sounding out words and identifying those meanings. Researchers Peter Freebody and Allan Luke have aptly described the reading process in terms of four roles, which we will explore below:
The Four Roles of the Literate Learner
- Meaning Makers: use prior knowledge and experiences to construct and communicate meaning
- Code User: recognize and use the features and structures of texts to break the code and find meaning
- Text User: understands that purpose and audience determine the way a text is created and structured
- Text Analyser: understands texts are not neutral, that perspectives can be missing, and that the messages of texts can be criticized
Readers are engaged in all four roles simultaneously when they read, and each role is essential to becoming fully literate. So how do we ensure the most reluctant reader goes beyond simple decoding, make complex inferences, and engage more critically? Let’s take a look at some tips.
Learn more on how to help your child with their writing skills.
Find Level Appropriate Texts for your Child
Reading is frustrating when texts are not at their level - it may be that the books are too hard, or too easy. Try a selection of texts at different levels, genres, and formats to determine where they are at in their readings. Parents of younger kids can find leveled texts at the bookstore or library: try a few out, and see what they can read out loud with fluency. Your goal is to get them books that are neither too easy or too challenging. Reading apps like Epic or Tumblebooks will also have plenty of virtual books that can be organized by level - let your child explore and see what kinds of books they actually get excited about.
Sound daunting? Give your child’s teacher a call and see if they can give you some observations or recommendations.
Offer your Child a Variety of Books
Have a variety of books around the house: graphic novels, manuals, cookbooks, magazines, or reference books like the Guinness Book of World Records. The goal is to get your kids engaged with books, and to see what kind of topics they are actually interested in. The books don’t need to have stories - some kids simply prefer non-fiction. If you have an older child who uses the internet a lot, see what kind of content they are engaging with. When you bring books that relate to your child’s interests, they are more likely to read them. Whatever the topic is, your kids will become better readers simply by reading more.
Help Your Child Improve their Writing
As we have mentioned before, writing is fundamental to making a strong impression on others, especially in a digital age. Many courses are taken online, and participation may be dependent on writing responses or sharing ideas in the chat. Job candidates are judged on the strength of a written resume or LinkedIn profile. Write badly and you may be looked over in favour of someone else who has done a better job of representing themselves.
When kids are in school, strong writing skills often translate to success across many subjects. Essay and paragraph writing is commonplace in History and Geography, lab reports are common in Science, and even in Math there is an expectation that students explain their thinking. If you can communicate with precision and persuasiveness - you will have an advantage that many students do not.
Read all of our tips for helping your child develop digital media literacy at home.
Is your Child a Struggling Writer?
Should you happen to see your child struggling to write sentences and paragraphs, have seen a less than stellar report card, or have gotten a call from the teacher with concerns about language, it’s important to intervene. To get to the root of the problem, observe your child as they do their homework. Are they avoiding writing assignments? Are they looking over their work and revising? Do they take the time to plan and brainstorm?
Once you have noted their writing behaviours, take a look at their actual work. A simple glance through their journal or drive will give you a clear sense of what they need help with, whether it is a lack of content, missing punctuation, or grammar mistakes. Take the time to go over the issues you see, and help them edit and revise assignments before they hand them in. Even asking them to add a few more sentences or shorten run-ons will do a lot to improve. They will also see that you are engaged and involved with their education, which goes a long way.
If your child is guarded and uninterested in sharing their work with you, simply ask their Language Arts or English teacher what they are observing. Supplement their learning with grammar workbooks or games where they can improve, or consider getting a tutor to help the with their writing.
Digital Media Literacy and your Child
Digital media literacy is part of your child’s language learning that often gets overlooked. And yet, it’s one of the most important areas where students need to develop their understanding - so much happens on the internet today, from social lives to shopping and movie watching. As teens and adults, your kids will likely become creators of digital content, and technology will undoubtedly have an impact on their careers.
To support your child in becoming more media literate, have regular discussions about what they are doing online and ask them questions about who they are following on social media. Talk about your own online activity, and model critical thinking as you chat about the latest news story or social media trend. What games are they playing? Who are the people or characters in the videos they watch? Explain to them how advertising works online, and how they are targeted by companies. Your child should know that their digital footprint is being tracked, and that it gives marketers insights into what they might be interested in purchasing.
Want to help your child with their speaking and listening skills? Check out our post.
Show your Kids the Importance of Privacy
If your kids are just starting out online, explain to your kids the importance of privacy so they don’t make themselves vulnerable to predators or bullies. The more information we share, the more susceptible we are to the interests of others. Online safety is one of the most important ways you can make your child digitally media literate. If they are playing with video games, they should know who and who not to engage with on private messaging.
Help your Kids Develop a Positive Digital Persona
Everything we post goes on record as far as the internet is concerned, so you should make an effort to talk to your kids about developing a positive persona online. Explain to your kids that they may want to apply for a post-secondary program or job one day, and the identity they have online may be factored into their acceptance or hiring. Tell them to think carefully about what they post, and to avoid posting when they are emotional. Having a positive online presence is incredibly important to their future.
Oral Communication Skills
We’ve talked about reading, writing, and media - the final area of literacy is oral communication, or listening and speaking. Oral communication skills connect to both social and academic life, whether we are building relationships with people we care about or preparing a presentation on research. Developing speaking and listening skills will serve your child well into adulthood as they will need to speak confidently at a job interview or lead a team. Being articulate and expressive comes with practice, a strong vocabulary, and opportunities to present under stress. The same goes with listening - we need to have critical listening skills so we can assess the ideas of others, follow a lecture, or simply understand instructions.
Help your Child Become a Better Speaker and Listener
You’ll help your child become a better speaker and listener by encouraging talk and exposing your kids to lots of oral texts. Use car rides or the dinner table as atmospheres to talk about different topics happening in the world, to summarize and talk about books, or simply have fun ‘this-or-that’ debates. Take a listening stance and let your child speak - you’ll be surprised at how much they want to talk about. Instead of the radio or music, play an audiobook or podcast that you can enjoy as a family - you’ll have plenty to discuss after.
Games are another great way to encourage talking and listening in your home. Board games like Taboo, Apples to Apples, Picture Charades, and Scattergories provide a fun context for talking on a long weekend or vacation.
Support Literacy with a Tutor
Monitoring and supporting your child’s literacy can be overwhelming, especially with all the other responsibilities of adult life. Help yourself and your child by hiring a private tutor to work with your child on their literacy skills.
A private tutor can review important grammar concepts, discuss your child’s reading, help them produce media products, and rehearse a presentation. Language or Literacy tutors have a strong understanding of English Language Arts, and can help your child achieve the success criteria the teacher has set.
Private tutors can meet with your child online or in-person at convenient times. Sites like Superprof have dozens of listings for local tutors near you. Check out Superprof today!