Supporting reading for primary learners

Learning to read is a vital part of a child's education, enabling them to access every other subject within the school curriculum and beyond.  But reading is also a skill for life and the benefits go far beyond the classroom. Books can give a child experience of the world, how it works, of strange places, the distant past and possible futures.  Books also help a child to understand their own feelings, grow empathy for others and build deeper relationships.

Reading with your fostered child is one of the most important and enjoyable ways in which you can support their learning. Reading together improves children's listening and concentration skills, develops comprehension, stretches the imagination and improves word power. But as children and young people read, share and listen to stories, they also develop their ability to tell their own story and make themselves heard.  

The following tips may be helpful to foster carers supporting children's reading from the pre-school years to the end of primary school.  The suggestions are organised according to children's level of skill and confidence, as fostered children may be working at a level that is different to their age or year group. 


Getting started

  • When children are learning to read sit them close to you so that they can see the words and the pictures in the book. Follow the print with your finger, pointing to each word as you read aloud.  Encourage children to also follow the print and turn the pages as you read the story. 

  • Ask questions about the story and the illustrations: 'Why did that happen?, 'What do you notice in this picture?' 

  • Encourage children to read short words using their phonic knowledge (letter sounds) and praise their attempts, even if they can't read the whole word correctly. Speak to your fostered child's class teacher for information about the phonics programme used by their school.

  • Make sure that you read with children every day. This should include books that they read aloud to you (perhaps reading scheme books from school) and books that you read aloud to them. Re-read favourite books on a regular basis, as familiarity will deepen their understanding of a story.

  • Give children the opportunity to read a range of high-quality children's books, including stories, poetry and information books. Look out for books that have rich and varied language, appealing storylines and engaging illustrations.

  • Encourage children to read words and print in the world around them, by pointing out signs, notices and slogans.

  • Share information with their class teacher by using any reading diary or record book provided by school. Remember to ask questions or request a meeting if you need specific support.

  • If English is an additional language (EAL) for your fostered child, continue to support their first language development alongside their learning in English. You can do this by using dual language books, audio recordings or asking their school for dual language support materials.  


Getting going

  • As children gain confidence you can take turns reading a page each, or use the 'paired reading' technique where you first read aloud together then the child taps the book when they feel ready to continue reading aloud alone.  Once children can read full sentences encourage them to read with expression, for example using a different voice when a character is speaking.

  • Make sure that children read every day, spending time reading with you and also reading books that they have chosen for enjoyment and pleasure.

  • Develop children's comprehension skills by asking questions when you are reading together: 'Why did that happen?', 'What do you think that character is feeling?', 'Which is your favourite character and why?' or 'What do you think will happen next?'

  • Continue reading aloud to children even once they can read independently. Listening to books being read aloud supports children's listening skills, comprehension and enables them to experience more complex narratives. Story CDs or audio downloads can also support this aspect of your fostered child's learning.

  • Show children how to use a junior dictionary to look up the meaning of words and a thesaurus to explore alternative vocabulary, as this will also support their writing development.

  • Let your fostered child see you reading at home, as this will encourage them to read too. Show them your favourite books and share opinions about books or authors that you have enjoyed. Spend time sitting quietly together and reading. 

  • Seek out diverse books that will give children an opportunity to see themselves represented in stories and may also help to broaden their perspective on the world. This will develop children's sense of empathy by connecting them with characters who might look or seem different to themselves.


Getting confident

  • As children become confident readers, continue habits of reading together and talking about books. Make sure that they still read aloud to you on a regular basis. This might be just a few pages, but it will enable you to stay in tune with their progress and prompt a discussion about the text.
  • When you discuss the book, try to ask questions that encourage your fostered child to show comprehension (understanding what is happening and why) and higher level skills such as prediction and inference (understanding what is implied in the text).
  • Borrow or buy the book of a film that they have enjoyed, as familiarity with the story and enagement with the characters may give them the confidence to tackle more challenging reading materials. 
  • Encourage children to develop an interest in favourite authors or series of books. Search for the author's website and read their blogs or articles.
  • Encourage children to read non-fiction material. Children's newspapers (First News) and magazines (National Geographic Kids) are available on subscription or may be provided in your library. Children may also enjoy relevant hobby or interest magazines: BBC Wildlife or BBC Good Food, for example. 
  • Keep books and reading material in odd places around your home. If you notice your fostered child gravitating towards a quiet spot, try keeping a basket of books, comics, magazines or albums nearby. 


Using your library

Your local library is free to use and is a rich resource for children’s reading development:

  • Make sure that your fostered child is a member of the library and has their own borrowing card.

  • Visit the library regularly, as often as you can. Once a week is fantastic and once a term is still better than not at all!

  • Ask the librarians for support in finding age-appropriate reading books but also encourage your fostered child to choose freely from the shelves.

  • Encourage your fostered child to issue their books independently and become familiar with how the library works.

  • Look out for library activity sessions as there is often a lot going on for children of all ages.

  • Taking part in holiday reading challenges can be a way to keep your fostered child motivated to read and write during breaks from school.

  • Libraries may also hold author events or competitions to encourage and support children's reading and writing.


Storytelling and attachment

We tell and listen to stories all the time - describing our daily lives, telling jokes, sharing memories or recounting anecdotes.  It is something that many foster cares do naturally and spontaneously, but it has a deeper meaning too. Almost invisibly, storytelling develops minds and builds relationships.

Attachment theory is about how humans develop relationships, how we make bonds with others and how our relationships affect how we see the world.  You can find out more on our attachment webpage. Our publication Building Relationships through Storytelling: A Foster Carer’s Guide to Attachment and Stories explores stories and how they are helpful to emotional, social and cognitive development. It also outlines attachment theory, explores how storytelling builds attachment and describes a model for thinking about using stories to develop relationships and skills. You can also download story-making cards to help create stories.  




Reading Together: why does it matter?