Helping to boost school readiness among young children by encouraging parents to read and learn with them at home. My TOP TIPS.

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‘Simply put, reading aloud  to your children will positively affect them for the rest of their lives ‘ ~ Sue Atkins

They say it takes a village & I believe we can ALL make deposits in their lives of our children by reading with and to them.

It’s about creating the intention to support, nurture, empower and help parents to create a home environment where stories are enjoyed, where communication is encouraged, and a love of books, nursery rhymes and rich language will positively impact on the social mobility of all children.

Today the education secretary Damian Hinds will say that the government must address the “last taboo in education policy” – the home learning environment – if it is to tackle a lack of communication skills among reception pupils.

He will also announce a new ambition to halve the number of children starting school without the right speaking and and reading skills by 2028

The latest results for the early years foundation stage profile shows that 28 per cent of four and five-year-olds did not meet the expected level of language and communication by the end of reception in 2017. Hinds reveal today that he wants to see that cut to 14 per cent in ten years.

‘I know it’s parents who bring up their children, who love them, who invest in them in so many ways, who want the best for their children. But that doesn’t mean extra support and advice can’t be helpful.’

In a speech to the Resolution Foundation think tank, billed as his first major intervention on social mobility, Hinds will set out plans to have a coalition of “businesses, charities, tech companies and media groups” provide support and advice for parents “to read and learn words with their children”.

The new coalition, led by founder members the National Literacy Trust and Public Health England, will hold a summit later this year to come up with “practical ideas that boost parents’ confidence with supporting their child’s language and literacy from an early age”.

The gathering will look at simple solutions for busy parents to help their children with language and communication skills, including through awareness-raising campaigns and the use of technology. However, no new funding for the project has been announced.

“It is a persistent scandal that we have children starting school not able to communicate in full sentences, not able to read simple words,” Hinds is expected to say.

“This matters – because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up, your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens. This has a huge impact on social mobility.

“And the truth is that the vast majority of these children’s time is at home. Yes, the home learning environment can be, understandably, the last taboo in education policy – but we can’t afford to ignore it when it comes to social mobility.”

But the education secretary has “no interest” in lecturing parents, he claims.

“I know it’s parents who bring up their children, who love them, who invest in them in so many ways, who want the best for their children. But that doesn’t mean extra support and advice can’t be helpful.

“I particularly want us to be harnessing the power of technology. Whilst there are legitimate worries about screen time, media and modern technology can also help to raise awareness and build parents’ confidence around what they can do to help their child’s early language development.”

Achieving this won’t be easy’

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said Hinds was “absolutely right” to “set an ambitious target for closing the early literacy gap by focusing on the home learning environment”.

“While achieving this won’t be easy, we know that all parents care about the future of their children,” he said.

My Top Tips

Simply put, reading aloud to your children will positively affect them for the rest of their lives.

Let’s begin with reading readiness. This term refers to the child’s mental, emotional and physical “readiness” to read. As pre-schoolers advance toward reading readiness, you can nurture their growth in a variety of very simple ways.

Make reading aloud to your child a part of each and every day

It is wonderful to end the day snuggling up and reading together. As parents, you want to convey the message that storytime and reading aloud is so important and special that you never want to miss it.

Create the atmosphere and intention in your home that stories are your ‘special time’ to engage, chat, read, bond & connect with your child. It will make them feel significant, valued and important. Do it regularly, and often for a short time, & foster the enjoyment of listening and reading stories, nursery rhymes or poems together.

Whenever possible both parents should be involved with reading aloud

There is a ‘theory’ that some boys become disinterested in reading because they perceive reading to be a feminine activity.

You can avoid this perception by your child if their Dad, Grandad or another male figure is equally involved in choosing books, reading stories aloud and listening when someone else is reading.

Choose great books to read aloud to your children

Visit the public library or a bookshop.

While your children are selecting books, tuck a few prize-winners into the pile & make an effort to choose good quality books as you will be encouraging your child to be selective & able to discern about what they read over time.

Provide your children with the tools readers use

Sign up for a library card in your child’s name. Encourage your child to check books out of the library by themselves.

Make sure there is a bedside light and a bookshelf or a basket in the bedroom just waiting to be filled with wonderful picture books and information books.

Encourage family members and friends to give good quality, age-appropriate books as gifts.

Finger point and model left to right, ask questions, chat about the pictures. Chat about the characters – ask ‘What would you do if you where Mr. Bear?’……

Repetition is great as children love to feel in control of the familiarity and it gives them confidence. They can predict what’s coming

Have fun with language.

As our children become readers and writers, their “auditory acuity”, their ability to notice nuances in sound, will contribute to their reading success. Spend time enjoying stories that feature rhythmic, repetitious, predictable, melodic and/or lyrical text. Soon your child will be ‘reading’ with you and thinking of themselves as a ‘reader’.

Encourage your child to be an active reader

Take a moment to talk about the books you share. Before you open a cover, make predictions about the story inside. Will it be funny or scary, a fairy tale or a factual book? Once into a book, guess what will happen next. Read two versions of the same story and decide which you prefer, compare illustrations and language.

Stretch when choosing books to read aloud

Don’t underestimate your child’s readiness for chapter books.

Begin with generously illustrated chapter books such as ‘A Treasury of Peter Rabbit’ and other stories by Beatrice Potter or Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne.

Next, try E.B. White’s books; ‘Charlotte’s Web’, ‘Stuart Little’ or Dick King-Smith’s stories about animals.

Soon your kids will be devouring Roald Dahl’s books and marvelling over Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?

When should I start reading to my baby?

Some people would say, “Start while the baby is still in the womb.”

I think six months is a good age to start reading board books. Ideally, starting to read aloud to your child should happen before your baby is really mobile. Snuggle up and enjoy a couple of board books every day. It will build a life long love of books, stories and reading and your child’s concentration will develop of over.

When can I stop reading to my children?

My personal opinion is that you should continue reading aloud to your children at least until they are around 11. How about jumping into bed altogether on a Sunday Morning and enjoying reading to your older kids?

We know that as children get older, the words, paragraphs and chapters become longer, there are fewer illustrations and the content is often more complex. If you continue to read to your child – even after they become an independent reader – you can still enjoy books that are too challenging for your child to read independently. This provides great motivation for them to continue reading

Who should read aloud to our children?


I would love to encourage parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts and uncles to read aloud to children.

Each adult can bring something special to the read aloud and/or storytelling experience. For boys, it is very valuable to have a male role model for reading. I worked with a family where Dad reads the stories while Mum sits with a cuppa and enjoys her own book. This is great modelling for the children to observe. Then they mix it up and change it around.

What if my child won’t sit still for a story?

Hearing the story is more important that sitting still for the story. Let your child be doing something else at the same time – in the bath, bouncing a ball or playing with their toys while you read to them. We can all multi task and kids are no exception!

My child wants to hear the same story over and over again… I’m bored. What should I do?

Read your child’s favourite story and then offer an incentive to listen to something different… “We can turn the light out now and you can go to sleep OR you can stay up late tonight and hear this new story!” My prediction is 9/10 children will want to stay up late to hear a new story!

Enjoy puzzle books & comics too.

I Spy, Spot Seven, Can You See What I See are all books that help your child to notice small details and will also introduce new vocabulary. Enjoy these books & comics in moderation as well.

Someone wrote in to my ‘Don’t Stew – Ask Sue on my weekly podcast LINK asking

‘Is it OK to read fairy tales as they can be awfully scary… Is it okay to read them to my child?’

Yes, Fairy Tales can be a bit scary with witches and potions, monsters & baddies so be guided by your child. If your child wants you to read a scary story, try it with them sitting comfortably on your knee or snuggled up on the sofa as it enables them to enjoy the tale in a safe setting.

English is not my first language. I am uncomfortable reading English to my children. What should I do?

Books on tape or MP3 could help you and your child enjoy books together. Look for these at your local library. While you are at the library, find out about story times as many libraries offer several opportunities for children to hear stories read aloud.

Picture books and almost wordless picture books may also be a good choice for you and your child because they can be enjoyed in any language. It’s the combination of reading, listening, chatting and discussing that creates a life long lover of books.

More of my articles on READING:

Why it’s SO important to read regularly with your kids & why little & often is the secret.

The importance of reading with your kids – SAPS 37

25 Reading Strategies That Work



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