This week, we look at some ways to get family members involved in a child’s interest in books and developing reading skillspdf-8936020

SENCO Week Help Sheet 7 – Listening to Readers.pdf Support for SENCOs Reading 3: The parents’ role in developing reading skills

Most parents (and grandparents) want their children to do well at school and are happy to support their learning. The trick for teachers wanting to harness this ‘resource’ is to find ways of helping families to do this as part of their busy schedules, and in a way that is fun for all concerned. As SENCO, you will be involved with those children who are not making adequate progress, and you’ll be keen to get parents ‘on board’ with some simple activities at home that can actually make a lot of difference. If a child has an IEP, a meeting with parents to discuss targets etc is an ideal opportunity to draw up a plan for regular input at home. In this case, remember to encourage parents to:

  • choose the time carefully − not while the child’s favourite TV programme is on; not when he is too tired etc
  • do it regularly − 10 minutes every day or three times a week is better than trying to fit in a ‘long session’ at the weekend
  • make it enjoyable- for all concerned
  • understand the task and the learning purpose

Pleading with parents to ‘share books’ with their children often fails to enthuse them; with younger children especially, parents can find that picture books are uninspiring − they simply don’t know what to do with them. If you can get a few parents together (at a coffee morning? With a crèche for younger siblings?) you can model book sharing − discussing pictures, looking at words, talking about the story and characters, etc, to build up their confidence and give them some ideas. Make sure they know how to use the local library (and understand that it is free!). Involve them in making story sacks. Introduce them to reading games.

All sorts of simple games can be played at home, at the bus stop, walking to school, which will help to develop language and phonic skills. As teachers, lots of these ideas are second nature to us and it can feel slightly patronising to talk to parents about playing ‘I spy’ with their children − but you might be surprised how many people just don’t think of it. Think about putting on a ‘workshop’ for invited parents, looking at a range of activities to support developing readers; include some reasonably priced published materials and software, as well as home-made games − parents are often happy to buy ‘educational’ stuff if they just know what it’s called and where to get it. You can include:

I spy Use sounds, not letter names; use sticky notes for a child to attach to something in the room beginning with ‘t’ − swap roles.
Bingo Use sounds or key words; follow what the child is learning in school; let him sometimes be the caller.
Snap/Happy families Sounds, key word, word/pictures.
Magnetic letters Make/match words; have a ‘word of the week’ on the fridge.
Jumble bag Cut up a sentence, jumble the words in a bag − the child tips out the words and makes the sentence (use a sentence from his reading book, or one he has made up himself).

Parents need to:

  • understand the importance of treating these activities as games and fun, rather than ‘homework’
  • involve siblings and other family members
  • be positive − the child is ‘nearly right’ rather then ‘wrong’

Once a child is on the way to reading, family members can be a great help in providing the one-to-one practice that’s so hard to fit in at school (dads, older brothers, grandads for boys if at all possible). Make sure that parents understand the importance of this − and that reading a familiar (‘easy’) book is often very useful to a child − it is a way of him experiencing success, enjoying the reading process, improving his expression. Reading to a child is also very valuable − older children enjoy taking turns and it ‘moves the story on’; audio books are also useful (but not a replacement for a real person !) (See HELP SHEET 7 for tips on listening to readers.)

Older pupils

When children are in the top end of primary, or in secondary school, it can be more difficult to engage parents in supporting their reading. This is no reason though, not to try! Invite them in as a group (safety in numbers), giving them a choice of time if possible, to allow them to fit around work, childcare, etc. I once ran the same workshop over three days with morning, afternoon and evening sessions, and asked parents to choose which one they would attend − this had the effect of conveying the expectation that they would attend, and we had a really good turnout . Be sensitive to the fact that some parents will lack confidence in their own literacy skills.

Give them some clear ideas about how they can help (you could use some of the games above), and ensure that they understand the importance of showing interest in their children, even though they are ‘grown up’, and continue to support their learning. Give out lists of appropriate books/audio books/ software to buy or get from the library. Suggest that parents occasionally read the same book as their offspring − and then talk with them about their favourite bits, etc. Reading recipes, DIY instructions and travel brochures can all provide opportunities for reading in the home over and above books and comics − adults can ask the youngster to read out a recipe to them while they cook.

Older children who are struggling with reading may have lost self-confidence along the way and have quite low self-esteem, so an important part of talking to parents is to suggest ways of addressing this; find something the child is good at and help him to experience success whenever possible; praise effort as well as achievement; avoid comparing him with other children/siblings, and never talk about his ‘problems’ to another person while he can hear − unless it’s a conversation that involves him and is conducted in a positive way.

shop-3235035 SEN News
It’s only in recent years that professionals have realised that many children with Down syndrome have the potential to read, and with appropriate teaching and encouragement can actually do very well. Guidance on supporting reading for children with Down syndrome is available from the Down Syndrome Educational Trust ( as part of their initiative, Up for Reading.
This involves encouraging children to read for just a few minutes every day for one week and asking their family and friends to sponsor their efforts. Proceeds will go to support early intervention in reading for children with Down syndrome.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.