Two weeks ago I had the privilege to help out with the Oxfordshire Children’s Read-a-thon. An amazing event aimed at re-enthusing children about reading. In preparation for the event and talking to the inspirational Anne Wattam, whose brainchild the whole event was, I kept on being confronted by shocking literacy figures.
The current system to teach children to read at schools just doesn’t seem to be working: One in five people in Britain are functionally illiterate (don’t have the reading ability to read and understand anything but the simplest text).  That is a shocking statistic!
According to research by the National Literacy Trust children, especially boys, are switching off from reading at the age of 7. They start falling behind barely after having started the learning.
I won’t start my rant about teaching to read English through phonics… only about 40% of English is truly phonetic afterall! 
And I won’t rant about my children being in school or on their way to and from school for nearly 8 hours a day, leaving about 2 hours of quality time at home (discarding meals, bathing, getting dressed time) and me being expected to spend a portion of those precious 2 hours on “school work”. No I won’t! Especially because until now I haven’t actually encouraged Angelina to do school work at home. I’ve left it to her whether she wanted to do any of it or just play. I’ve wanted her and her brothers to enjoy being a children and playing. They’ve got the rest of their lives to work.
In the run up to the Read-a-thon I did however put in a concerted effort and sat down every evening to read with Angelina. I was shocked at how she struggled with some very common words and yet read some very complex ones. I felt so guilty and felt like I was failing her by entrusting the school to do all the teaching. I guess it’s not particularly her school’s fault, as nationally we seem to be having trouble- a combination of adopting a misinterpreted system for teaching and there not being the resources necessary to guide each child individually.
The issue of just how to encourage my kids to sit down to do more school work in the little time they have after school has been on my mind for a while now. I want to let them play and not feel like any additional learning is a chore.
This January I subscribed to Reading Eggs, an online resource to help children learn to read. We trialed it with a free trial, liked it and I subscribed. This online, interactive tool took away the chore element of learning. The children were happy to sit by the computer and “play”, especially when they discovered the playrooms and games available on the platform too. It worked for us. For a couple of weeks Angelina popped online each day, then my laptop broke and our efforts foundered.
I’ve just seen (because google adwords often serves you up sites you’ve been to before) Reading Eggs had launched the Great Literacy Challenge a couple of weeks ago with a 5 week free trail (and for every new sign up Reading Eggs will donate £1 to their charity partner Tommy’s! Thus helping to fund research into stillbirth, premature birth and miscarriage.)
Now I’m on a mission: we’re taking the Great Literacy Challenge. I’m going to make sure that my children don’t become one of the one in five! I want them to enjoy books just as much as I have always done.
I’ve signed Hugo up for the free 5 week trial and we still have Angelina’s subscription till January. So every afternoon or evening they can have 30 minutes on the computer.
We started the new routine today.
Angelina can do 2-3 lessons in the 30 minutes. Tonight she restarted from where she left off in the spring, lesson 28.
Hugo started on lesson 1. With him we are going to do one lesson every 1 to 2 days and then practice writing the letter.
Angelina loves writing, but writes everything phonetically. She hates it when I correct her writing and dismisses it as irrelevant. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate daily writing tasks with her; something that’s fun. Any suggestions welcome!
I’d love to hear your views on teaching children to read (and write)!
Do you practice daily?
Do you let the school take the lead or have you taken matters into your own hands?
Any specific method or tools you’ve found useful?
Do come back to find out about our progress.
Sources:  Human Development Report 2009, Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development, pg 180
Disclaimer: In case you may be wondering- this is NOT a sponsored post.