Tag archives: Letterbox Club

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Supporting looked after children’s reading and wider learning

boy-with-letterbox-blue-parcelI 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.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Looked-after children and reading

This month has seen the publication of a special edition of Write4Children that is all about diversity, inclusion and equality issues in children’s reading and children’s literature. My article on looked-after children and reading is now on my website. It explores LAC’s literacy attainment and the reasons for their low achievement rates, discusses reading resources and the importance of sensitivity in their choice, and highlights the impact of interventions that have made reading materials more accessible to looked-after children.

Letterbox Club is a great book-gifting scheme for LAC. The photo shows an engrossed recipient of one of their packages.

It’s well worth having a look at the journal. The range of articles is fantastic. Lots of fascinating topics.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Book and reading events at the Imagine Festival

What a great – and illuminating – time I had at the Imagine Festival. I’ve already blogged about the launch of the Young Minds report. There were two other events with a looked-after children theme, both excellent. ‘Lyrical Letterboxes’ was the brainchild of Letterbox Club. Jackie Kay and Roger McGough captivated everyone with accounts of the reading they loved as children, and with superbly participative renditions of their poems. Anne of Green Gables was Kay’s favourite book. She totally identified with Anne, who was adopted, like her, and was just as much of a chatterbox. She even named her son after Anne’s father. Kay also adored Greyfriars Bobby, about, as she put it, ‘the most loyal dog in history’. (This was one of my absolutely favourite reads too. I still have the copy my dad gave me.) McGough’s literary hero was Alf Tupper in the Rover comic. Despite having no home and no money for proper clothes or shoes, Alf ran for England and won. McGough’s childhood ambition, he told us, was to grow up to be a fictitious comic book character. This has to be the most interesting ambition I have ever encountered. Letterbox Club had a big bag of books, one for each Club member in the audience. A lovely touch.

‘From Pip to Potter’ on Sunday was a fascinating panel discussion organised by Letterbox Club and the Reader Organisation, which I am proud to be a group facilitator for. It was about literary characters with a care background – what a lot there are, not least Superman – and how they, and indeed reading itself, can inspire children in care. Lemn Sissay told us looked-after children (LAC) are celebrated in art, but are not, and should be, in real life. He and poet Caroline Bird spoke about their Superhero poetry workshops, which have provided LAC with new and important means of expression. We heard about the fantastic differences the Letterbox Club makes to the lives of children in care, and the excellent support the Reader project with LAC is giving, again through the medium of books. All these schemes give children and young people more ways to think about themselves and their situations, and also to understand other people better: books as mirrors or windows or both. The speakers talked about how helpful it is for looked-after children to discover through  reading that they are not the only ones with problems. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is amazing for this, as is Jacqueline Wilson’s Worry Website. Questions from the floor raised important points, including the reasons for LAC’s often low reading levels and the need for training for carers, something very dear to my heart. An excellent event.

For anyone who is interested, you can find all my blog posts about looked-after children here, including several about Letterbox.

I was also lucky enough to attend the Red House Children’s Book Award ceremony on Saturday. Queen Elizabeth Hall was packed with hundreds of excited children. The very best thing about the award is that it is judged solely by children, and it was delightful that the winners were announced by children. The afternoon was a wonderful celebration of books and reading, with lots of brilliant authors, this year’s shortlisted ones, and previous title-holders like Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman too. All were great. I especially enjoyed Mick Inkpen’s tale about one particular critical reaction to Blue Balloon, a book I love and use time and time again in activities with children. ‘It’s not your best, is it?’, said his seven year-old son. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was the worthy overall award winner. I took the photo before the event, as children queued to add their suggestions for good reads to the reading tree set up in Hall foyer.

There are still lots of Festival events to come, though unfortunately my involvement is at an end.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Booktrust targeted programmes

I had a fascinating meeting this week with Marian Keen-Downs, Head of Targeted Programmes at Booktrust. It was great to hear all that is currently happening with Letterbox Club and Booktrust’s new targeted offers for selected schools, The Ant Club and Beyond Booked up. Both schemes start early next year, providing teachers’ packs with resources and lesson plans to promote communication, language and literacy skills, and reading for pleasure.

The Ant Club  is aimed at pupils in Reception and Year 1. The resources sound wonderful. They will include rhyme, role play, fairy tale and poetry, all brought to life by Nick Sharratt. I love the idea of the scrapbook to help children ‘get carried away by words’.

BeyondBooked Up is aimed at Year 7 and 8 pupils. There will be lots of accessible resources, all designed to inspire interest in books and reading, including play scripts and a brand new anthology of short stories. This is going to be in magazine format, and Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Horowitz are among the high-profile authors. The packs will be free for eligible schools, and will be available at cost to other schools in the future.

I blogged a few weeks ago about Letterbox Club’s impact on looked-after children’s reading in Brent. The scheme is  transforming LAC’s attitudes to reading and learning up and down the UK. In one Welsh authority, information about the local university was included in the Letterbox envelopes. Foster families asked for a visit, and seeing the place for themselves completely changed the children’s views about higher education. Interestingly, some of the most popular books for key stage 3 children have been an atlas and a dictionary.

Marian and I discussed ideas for workshops on reading for foster carers. Fingers crossed that we can get them off the ground.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Visit to Brent Virtual School

I had a very interesting meeting with all the team at Brent Virtual School earlier this week. It was great to hear about the work they do to support Brent’s looked-after children. I was so impressed about the results they are achieving: Brent scores 7th highest in the country in terms of A*-C GCSEs attained by LAC, despite the fact that it is an authority with very high levels of deprivation. I met several of their students at a stage performance a few months ago, and can testify to their skills and motivation.

Letterbox Club is having a fantastic impact in Brent. The children love receiving the books and games in the post. Having books of their own and being members of a club are hugely appealing to them. One girl expressed amazement and delight that the parcels reached her even when she had moved. Reading tests at Y3 and Y5 before and after gifting have demonstrated significant improvements. The team say the rise in reading levels among Brent’s LAC recently highlighted by Ofsted had a lot to do with the scheme. I am sure the great partnership between the Virtual School and the Library Service also plays a big part in building enthusiasm for reading as well as reading skills. The Service supports LAC in other ways too, with fun days for example, and exciting contributions to celebration events. Lots of looked-after teenagers get work experience in Brent libraries.

Hopefully I will be giving some training on supporting LAC reading for Brent foster carers next year. I am already looking forward to it.