Supporting literacy for primary children

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Reading with your child must be one of the most enjoyable ways in which you can support their learning. Reading improves listening and concentration skills, develops comprehension, stretches the imagination and improves word power.

But the benefits of reading and telling stories go far beyond the classroom as they read, listen, act out or create stories children and young people not only their language and imagination, but their ability to tell their own story and make themselves heard. Stories can give experience of the world, how it works, of strange places, the distant past and possible futures. They can particularly help a child to understand themselves and others; to gain insight into thoughts and feelings; to be empathic and build relationships with others. Stories help develop social and emotional literacy and social development.

Literacy without lessons - top tips

  • Play lots of ball games to develop hand-eye coordination
  • Get your child to draw, colour and paint, make sure there are always pens an paper to hand so using these tools is not always a chore
  • Nervous readers can struggle to engage with written text out of a fear of failure or embarrassment. Wordless picture books can be a great way of building vocabulary by examining the images and taking about them without risking being intimidated. Ask your child; ‘what do you see on this page?’, ‘what do you think is happening in the story now?’, ‘what do you like about the way this story is told?’
  • Establish a reading relationship. We are never too old to be read to; younger children should be read to every evening and even older children who are not yet fluent readers will benefit from being read to, get them to read familiar books to you.
  • Keep scrabble tiles in a fun box on the kitchen or sitting room table and use them to play with informally – spell out new words, make silly rhymes, write their name
  • Play board and card games to encourage counting and memory
  • Encourage them to keep a little diary and write down or draw the best thing that happened to them each day
  • Ask if your fostering service or virtual school (in England) can provide access to schemes like the Letterbox Club who send out books and learning games to younger children each month.
  • Get  your child to write shopping lists, recipes, send postcards, write emails or ask them to write you notes about what they want for supper, in their lunch box etc.
  • Ask your child to read out instructions, recipes and signs.

Reading at home - top tips

Primary and nursery children normally have a book to read at home from school here are our top tips for getting the most out of reading together:

With beginner readers:
  • Sit them close to you so that they can see the words and the pictures.
  • Point to the words as you read so that they learn to recognise them.
  • Ask what they think will happen next, or how the story will end.
  • Buy a simple dictionary and check new words
  • Take turns reading a page each as they gain confidence.
Once your child is reading independently, develop their new skill:
  • Once they can read full sentences encourage them to read with expression and put on voices for different characters
  • Ask lots of questions about the story such as;  'Which is your favourite character and why? 'Does this story remind you of anything that has happened to you?'  'Can you guess what is going to happen next?'
  • Play with language – read words you know your child knows in a silly way and allow them to correct your pronunciation
  • As they gain more fluency use a simple thesaurus to find meanings and related words
  • Buy or borrow the book of a film they have enjoyed – familiarity with a story and engagement with the characters can give a child the confidence to tackle more challenging reading materials.
  • Read quietly together.  Talk about what you have read in newspapers, books or magazines.

Make your home a reading home

  • Feed their passions  A biography of their favourite sports person, something to make them giggle from the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards shortlist or something factual to help them with a new hobby.
  • Use your library card! Library’s not only offer a brilliant selection of books they run creative family activities making them a great place to spend an afternoon. When you get home with all those carefully chosen books you’ve got a weeks’ worth of new bedtime stories.
  • Keep fun reads in odd places. Think about quiet spots you notice your young person gravitating towards and try keeping a basket of comic’s, magazines, joke books, football albums nearby. Also consider doing the same in the bathroom, this might seem odd but it’s a quiet space and it really is impossible to take the x-box in there!
  • Read for yourself too. Make time for yourself. Finding time to read can be just as important for you as the young people you care for. Poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain, they can also make us laugh and spirit us briefly away from the day to day.  Remember that your 15 minutes peace also set’s a fantastic example. There is strong evidence showing that young people growing up surrounded by readers are more likely to become regular readers themselves.
  • Share your favourites What was your favourite book at their age? Try finding a special copy of it and leaving it in their room with a note explaining what the book meant to you and why you want to share it with them. Have patience. They might resist reading the book, but the act of you sharing something personal with them could start a conversation about what they’d prefer to read instead. Similarly if they are really enjoying a book get yourself a copy and join in.
  • Declare a no tech day It won’t make you popular, but if you prepare with books, magazines and games to stave off short attention spans – it really is possible to have an enjoyable day without the laptop or play station we promise! If you think the house will be too much of a battleground, start the day with a trip to the library and make the most of a sunny day and decamp to the park for the afternoon.
  • Find books that they can see themselves in. Greater diversity in books not only gives children an opportunity to see themselves in stories but also helps broaden the perspective of all children by developing children's sense of empathy and connection with characters who might look different from themselves. A study by University of Wisconsin-Madison determined that only 3.3% of children’s and young adult books starred black characters. Websites like can help you find exciting and diverse books to inspire – you don’t have to buy from them – spend time looking for some interesting looking books and then take time together to write to their school or local library to request them.

The link between storytelling and attachment

Telling stories, and also hearing children tell stories back to you, is one of the most rewarding things you can do for looked after children. We tell and listen to stories to those we are closest to all the time – in such as things describing our daily lives, jokes and anecdotes, memories and so on. More formal storytelling, such as telling remembered stories, perhaps fairy stories or events from our own lives, is something that many foster carers do naturally and spontaneously. But it can be so much more than just a bit of fun. Almost invisibly, storytelling builds relationships and develops minds.

The link between attachment and storytelling Attachment theory is about how humans develop relationships, how we make the bonds of attachment with others and how our relationships affect how we see the world. We are always telling and listening to the on-going stories of our lives, our problems, obstacles, successes and failures. When we tell these stories and have them heard and ‘validated’ or accepted they become ways that we make sense of and affirm our experience.

Read more about attachment and storytelling in our free publication Building Relationships  through Storytelling: a foster carer's guide


BookTrust is the largest reading charity in the UK. They work to inspire a love of reading in children because we know that reading can transform lives. Their website has lots of resources and recommendations for books to enjoy as a family.Key resources

The Words for Life website by the Literacy Trust offers wonderful free resources to help carers and parents support children (0-11) with reading and literacy with games, magazines, rhymes and stories.