Tips for keeping up your child’s literacy over the holidays

It's always a tricky one, especially if your son or daughter has made good progress with literacy during the preceding term: how can you make sure they don't just forget it all over the holidays?

Well, there's post for that and we have just the person to write it. Adam Meyersieck is an American expat who's lived in the UK since 2007. Adam pioneered the Islington Dyslexia Network, a local authority dyslexia specialist support network in London and works alongside a number of schools, organisations and projects seeking to make a difference in special education services in the UK and around the world. He now leads the Gosden House School Outreach Service in Bramley and is helping to establish the Surrey Inclusion Outreach Service as part of Surrey’s Local Offer.

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Tips for Literacy and Family Fun!

The Christmas Holiday always has the potential to be the most wonderful time of the year for food, family, faith and friends. It can also provide terrific opportunities for parents and carers to connect with their children by enjoying a variety of leisurely learning experiences with them.

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As teachers, parents and carers of children with learning and additional needs, it’s always important to remind ourselves that children’s’ curiosity is often most developed through hands on, interactive learning experiences with friends, family and the world around us. Many of our children learn more by doing and investigating rather than simply seeing and hearing. While tablets, smart phones and computers can help us engage with a variety of games, activities and social media, they only allow us to see and hear what is truly real. While they provide a different type of learning experience, they will never replace the benefits of participating in activities with friends, family and community.

Here are a small number of practical activities you can do with your children over the next two weeks to jointly enjoy the benefits of curiosity, persistence, investigation and discovery (and yes, it may even mean we re-discover the joy of unplugging from the devices that often compete with our loved ones for our attention):

  1. Take a Fake-cation!

If you are staying local for Christmas, head on into town and buy a few postcards which highlight some of the sights in your local community. Next, take a few hours and visit those locations with your children. Discuss the history of the buildings you see, the fields, types of plants, people, trees, or whatever images you see on the postcards. Afterwards, you and your children can write a post card together and send them off to friends and family.

If you really want to “fake” it, just buy the post cards and, with your child, use your imaginations to make up a story to write and send to friends and family!

  1. Dust off the board games and get the playing cards out!

Uno, Matching Pairs, Hungry Hippo, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, Pictionary, Jenga, etc… Playing games like this can develop social skills, reasoning, speaking and listening and foster a sense of community and belonging. Matching pairs helps us practice our working memory and short-term memory skills, which have been shown to be important for literacy development and using and applying!

If you don’t own many board games or card games, head into town on Boxing Day for some post-Christmas sales. These are usually on sale and a number of stores and you may be able to pick up some real bargains. You can also find these types of games at car boot sales and charity shops. Just don’t let the rivalries get out of hand!

  1. Hit the hills!

Don your festive apparel (Jingle Bells reference for a Christmas jumper), lace up those hiking boots, and wrap up in a scarf to hit the hills and other local trails. A good old-fashioned walk can do our souls a lot of good! Physical exercise releases “feel-good chemicals” called endorphins which can lift our mood. According to the NHS, a child between the ages of 5-18 should get at least 60-minutes of physical exercise every day. This can include walking, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, playing a sport, running around a playground or walking the dog. These types of activities keep our muscles, heart and lungs going strong!

If you have a smartphone download the free app ViewRanger, which includes just about every walking path and narrow trail in Surrey (and beyond).

Start your holiday by making a list of at least three different physical activities to do over the next two weeks. Every time you complete one of them, cross it off your list and talk about what you did to reinforce speaking and listening skills. But remember: this is England, so don’t forget your anorak when you go out!

  1. Hollywood Reading

This is a strategy that practices reading with expression by modelling for them what fluent, expressive reading sounds like. Expression in reading is important for practicing fluency (reading speed and accuracy) and comprehension (understanding of the text). I came up with this idea a few years ago when I was looking at ways to help timid readers bring their books to life.

First you’ll need (1) a favourite book/story and (2) a recording device. Most smartphones and tablets have recording devices on them already.

Step by Step to help timid readers bring books to life

Here’s a step-by-step on how you do it:

  • Choose a sentence or two and record your child reading it. If they do not know a word, quickly tell them what it is and keep reading.
  • Pause the recording when they have read the sentence or two.
  • You model for them how to read the sentence using A LOT of expression
  • Tell your child you want them to read it just like you
  • Record them reading it again
  • Play both recordings out loud and back to back. Ask them which reading sounded more “exciting” to listen to and why.

The point of this is to be “over the top” and show children that reading is more than simply saying the words on a page. When read with a lot of expression, even the most lacklustre stories can be fun!

  1. Invent-a-Story

We like making up stories. Whether we tell stories of things we’ve done, share ideas we have made up or perhaps tell a little white lie (not you, of course), our imaginations enjoy running wild!

This activity explores imagination, creativity, and practices speaking and listening skills by making up stories using magazine image cut-outs, pictures, newspaper photos, and a bucket or bag to put images in. Your children can do this with you, on their own, or with a sibling/friend to Invent-a-Story about the image they have selected

Here’s how to do it:

  • Before you choose an image, decide if you are going to make up a silly, scary, or adventurous story, or one with a bit of everything
  • Have your child close their eyes and pull out a picture from the bucket
  • Start a timer for 5-minutes
  • Take turns and tell the story to the “audience”
  • Audience asks questions about the storyteller’s story (characters, ideas, plot, etc)
  • Celebrate their effort!

CHALLENGE: Tell a story using two or three very different images, linking them together to form a very silly, scary or serious story

These were just a few practical things you can do to develop literacy and learning skills with your children. Have fun, be jolly and don’t forget to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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