I did my teacher training through the notorious Literacy Hour, which meant that we couldn’t write a poem about the snow when it was snowing, we had to do Greek Myths because that was what the NLS said we had to do in Year 5 Term 2. In the independent system, we could be flexible, and space to be responsive to your children’s individual needs is surely at the heart of good teaching practice. When the sun shone and the weather was beautiful and the children were itching to go outside, we downed tools, dashed into the sunshine and lay in the grass looking up at the sky and wrote poetry. At the end of Year 6, when my charges were visibly anxious about moving on to their secondary schools, I abandoned whatever it was that I was going to do and we did a tour of the school, sharing memories over the years and writing letters to the school to ease the transition.
Of course, with home education, there is even more freedom.
Here are my top tips for helping your child’s literature and language skills blossom.
I have seen English taught brilliantly, and I have seen it taught very, very badly. Giving children a random, out of context grammar exercise, followed by a random, out of context comprehension, is not a good idea. Particularly when there is no meaning or discussion.
Give them a context. This could be a theme (space, dinosaurs, the English Civil War) or a literature text. (See below.)
- Listen and Be Present
The other night my little one said to me, “Mummy, I get in a muddle and someone wanted me to write and I didn’t want to write but someone asked me to and I did it wrong.”
Obviously, the someone was me. I thought I was being helpful and encouraging, but he didn’t want to write, and, crucially, didn’t feel ready for it, which I should have known if I had really properly observed his body language and facial expressions and truly listened to my child.
Interestingly, when I apologised and said, “I hear that you’re not ready, we won’t do any if you don’t want to,” he shrugged and replied casually, “Yeah, it’s fine. I expect I’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Sometimes you just need to take the pressure off, and it needs to be their idea, and not yours.
I love this. I learned this from a Head of Department under whom I worked for a few years and it really made sense to me.
Choose a book and generate all of your activities from that book. Grammar, non-fiction tasks, creative writing, comprehension and anything else which extends and supports learning. In schools, I would take a novel and then use any resources available (the internet, the textbooks we had available, my imagination) to create a series of lessons which linked to the text. The children loved it; they couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next in the story and loved learning about the historical and geographical context of the novel, exploring the characters’ journey in more depth, using it as inspiration for creative writing, drama and debate. Now, with home education, one can be even more free and use it to inspire outdoor learning, trips, cooking and adventures. This approach is the inspiration for my Lighting Up Literature Resource Packs*. It works for everyone from toddlers (my son and I have really enjoyed exploring his books in more depth – we made our own paper dolls after reading the classic by Julia Donaldson of the same name, and tomorrow he wants to make marmalade sandwiches so we can be just like Paddington) to teens.
- Don’t get too hung up on pen and paper.
Is handwriting important? Yes, of course. But children’s brains are often miles ahead of their motor skills and sometimes it is so empowering and exciting just to be able to succeed. Play storytelling games like Consequences, use toys as props, do role play and hot-seating, play guessing games where you ask your child to describe an object and you guess what it is. Ask them to tell you a story while you scribe for them. All of these will help your child build narrative and descriptive skills which will stand them in good stead for writing brilliant stories. Debating and discussion – both formal and informal – will have countless benefits when it comes to writing a balanced argument or a persuasive speech.
Parents are often quite anxious about their children’s handwriting, but it isn’t everything. I once taught a dyslexic, dyspraxic child with terrible handwriting. It was almost completely illegible. He has just graduated from Cambridge and is a published poet.
It’s a journey, and such a magical and rewarding one. Enjoy the ride.
Follow my blog for thoughts on life, attachment parenting, home education and supporting your child’s learning at home, and our attempts at ethically conscious living.