I love giving training on looked after children. I’ve been very privileged in the last couple of months to provide courses for foster carers, designated teachers and virtual school staff, and I very much enjoyed giving a workshop for Letterbox Club last week. If you haven’t heard of it, Letterbox Club is a wonderful scheme run by Booktrust that posts books and learning-rich games and activities to looked after children.
Most children and young people in the care system have experienced trauma, loss and disruption. A high proportion suffer mental health problems. Low self-esteem and low self-confidence are commonplace, as are high anxiety levels. It doesn’t help that aspirations for looked after children are often low. All of these are significant barriers to learning. But having worked with many inspiring carers and professionals (teachers, social workers, librarians and museum workers) over the years, I know that with the right support looked after children can and do thrive, educationally and socially and emotionally.
It’s always a delight to hear carers talk about how they support learning. It’s the everyday things that often make the biggest difference to looked after children’s attitudes to learning. Things like cooking together, looking up information together, going to the shops, gardening, kicking a football around together, doing puzzles together, playing board games, playing computer games. Visits to the library and to museums can be transformative. Carers can be fabulous role models. Recent Booktrust research shows a correlation between the amount that foster carers read themselves and the amount that the children they look after read. Lots of children who enter the care system have poor reading levels for their ages, but I am not surprised that the Booktrust survey demonstrates that the longer a child has been in foster care, the longer they have been living with their foster carer and the older they become, the more likely they are to be average or above average in their reading level for their age. Enjoyment is key. Enjoying reading together, whether from books, comics, magazines, newspapers, catalogues or anything else has enormous impact. So does having lots of engaging reading materials that tie into individual interests lying around. These words of a carer highlight the power of books in foster homes: ‘We all had a go at Where’s Wally. Even the teenagers wanted to have a go.’
For anyone interested, here is a peer-reviewed article on looked-after children and reading I wrote.
A little while ago I blogged about the importance of family learning and gave some links to sources of information. This time, I thought I would share a few of the photos I showed on a recent course on the topic for an inspiring group of community development workers, children’s centre staff and library staff. They give an indication of the many forms good family learning can take.Rhyme times are fabulous in terms of fun, and for developing social and emotional skills and language. This is a great one run by Barnet Libraries.Enjoyable activities like this drop-in event at Orleans House Gallery support family bonding and give ideas for things to do at home.There’s nothing to beat story times for building a love of books and reading. Lots of engagement in this Bromley Libraries bedtime story hour.Everyone enjoys creative activites, and they support social and artistic skills. I was very lucky to be part of Historic Royal Palaces’ Curious Stories project.I loved contributing to this Barnet Libraries project. Lots of fun, and everyone got a real sense of achievement, an important aspect of family learning.For family learning to work it must be enjoyable. This is a wonderful collaboration between the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Fitzwilliam Museum.Research shows that family learning supports well-being. You can see how it happens in these photos from a Cardiff Story event.Family learning is inclusive and intergenerational. Don’t forget grandparents! These photos were taken at events in Liverpool and Enfield libraries.Lots of good family learning is very informal, as in this event at Crealy Adventure Park mounted by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.Lastly, a reminder that play is an important part of family learning activities. Here is an Enfield Libary Service toddler time.
Family learning is transformative. For anyone interested in finding out more about its benefits and ways to support it effectively, there are still places available on two courses I’m giving later this term: Sheffield on 23 March and Cardiff on 28 March. I also deliver bespoke in-service family learning training for local authorities, schools, museums, and other organisations.
What a lovely afternoon I had on Friday: a visit to Coopers Lane Primary School in Lewisham to see their fabulous tube carriage library, and talk to headteacher Paul Hooper about its inception and use. The story started with a vote by the children in the school to call their classrooms after tube stations. That led to a wild idea to get a tube carriage into the playground and to make it into a library. The old one had to make way for a classroom when the school expanded. Many conversations and lots of work by lots of people later the dream became a reality. You can watch the installation and hear more about the project here.
This is a school that places huge emphasis on instilling a love of learning and that sees reading for pleasure as a vital part of this. The library is a manifestation of their educational priorities. It takes pride of place in the playground, and the children flock to it during playtimes. There are loads of carefully chosen books for them to read, and they love playing in the driver’s cab.
The library is also used very imaginatively to support learning across the curriculum, for example when the year 6 children explored evacuation during World War 2 they boarded the train as evacuees. The Reading Dream Team – such a great name – pair up with children in need of support to enjoy books together in the library. The children have written their own Poems on the Underground, some of which were read at the library opening ceremony. They are also going to appear on the underground network, an incredible accolade.
It’s not only the children who like reading in the library. I was very pleased to introduce Paul to a new favourite book of mine, Dog on a Train by Kate Prendergast, a wonderful wordless story which features tubes and tube stations.
Many thanks to Paul and the school for a very heartening end to my week.
Time for one of my regular round-ups of reading news. But first a wonderful quote from out-going US President Barack Obama: ‘Reading is important. If you know how to read, then the whole world opens up to you.’
The Education Endowment Foundation has found that primary school breakfast clubs boost reading, writing and maths. Thank you to Summer Lane Primary School for the photo of one of their very successful family reading breakfasts.
Read On Get On has published an important strategy, aimed at improving literacy through focusing on reading enjoyment.
Booktrust Chief Executive Diana Gerald believes passionately in reading for pleasure and and in an article about its value argues strongly for children reading what they like. Joy Ballard makes a similar case in ‘Let the teens read Mills and Boon!’ Katie Ashford of Michaela School takes a very different view in ‘Easy books aren’t the route to a lifelong love of reading’. Do read the comment stream beneath this controversial piece.
New research shows that there are lots of girls struggling with reading. The big concern is comprehension.
Secondary school teachers, librarians, students and parents will find lots of ideas for inspiring reading an innovative booklist created by the librarians at Elmgreen School.
Teacher Jesse Buetow’s piece on using technology to inspire independent readers explores the value of student-created book ‘commercials’.
A recent study found interesting differences between reading paper books and screen reading with young children.
It’s well worth listening to this Radio 4 piece on children and ebooks, particularly Julia Eccelshare’s input.
To end, another great quote from Obama: ‘Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible.’