The link below is to an article that concludes that children read more challenging books while in lockdown.
Around one in three (36%) Australian children grow up in families experiencing adversity. These include families where parents are unemployed, in financial stress, have relationship difficulties or experience poor mental or physical health.
Our recent study found one in four Australian children experiencing adversity had language difficulties and around one in two had pre-reading difficulties.
Language difficulties can include having a limited vocabulary, struggling to make sentences and finding it hard to understand what is being said. Pre-reading difficulties can include struggling to recognise alphabet letters and difficulties identifying sounds that make up words.
Learning to read is one of the most important skills for children. How easily a child learns to read largely depends on both their early oral language and pre-reading skills. Difficulties in these areas make learning to read more challenging and can affect general academic performance.
What are language and pre-reading difficulties?
International studies show children experiencing adversity are more likely to have language and pre-reading difficulties when they start school.
Language difficulties are usually identified using a standardised language assessment which compares an individual child’s language abilities to a general population of children of the same age.
Pre-reading difficulties are difficulties in the building blocks for learning to read. For example, by the age of five, most children can name at least ten letters and identify the first sound in simple words (e.g. “b” for “ball”).
Children who have not developed these skills by the time they start school are likely to require extra support in learning to read.
1 in 4 children in adversity had language difficulties
We examined the language, pre-reading and non-verbal skills (such as attention and flexible thinking) of 201 five-year-old children experiencing adversity in Victoria and Tasmania.
We defined language difficulties as children having language skills in the lowest 10% compared to a representative population of Australian 5-year-olds. By this definition, we would expect one in ten children to have language difficulties.
But our rates were more than double this — one in four (24.9%) of the children in our sample had language difficulties.
More than half couldn’t name alphabet letters
Pre-reading difficulties were even more common: 58.6% of children could not name the expected number of alphabet letters and 43.8% could not identify first sounds in words.
By comparison, an Australian population study of four year olds (children one year younger than in our study) found 21% could not name any alphabet letters.
Again, our rates were more than double this.
Interestingly, we didn’t find these differences for children’s non-verbal skills. This suggests language and pre-literacy skills are particularly vulnerable to adversity.
There are several reasons that could explain this. Early speech and language skills develop through interactions children have with their parents. These interactions can be different in families experiencing adversity, due to challenges such as family stress and having fewer social supports.
Families experiencing adversity may also have fewer resources (including time and books) to invest in their children’s early language and learning.
Why is this important?
It is really challenging for children starting school with language and pre-reading skills to catch up to their peers. They need to accelerate their learning to close the gap.
Put into context, if a child starts school six months behind their peers, they will need to make 18 months gain within a year to begin the next school year on par with their peers. This is not achievable for many children, even with extra support, and a tall order for many schools.
Early reading difficulties often continue throughout the primary school years and beyond. Sadly, we also know that the long-term impacts of language and pre-reading difficulties don’t just include poor reading skills, but problems which can carry into adulthood.
These can include struggling academically, difficulties gaining employment, antisocial behaviour and poor well-being.
What can we do?
These results should be concerning for us all. There are clear and extensive social costs that come with early language and pre-reading difficulties, including a higher burden on health and welfare costs and productivity losses.
These impacts are particularly worrying given the significant school disruptions experienced due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. School closures will have substantially reduced children’s access to additional support and learning opportunities, particularly for those experiencing adversity, further inhibiting opportunities to catch up.
Our best bet is to ensure as many children as possible start school with the language and pre-reading skills required to become competent early readers.
For example, ensuring all children have access to books at home has shown promise in supporting early language skills for children experiencing adversity.
We know which children are at greatest risk of struggling with their early language and pre-reading skills. We now need to embed this evidence into existing health and education services, and invest in supports for young children and families to address these unequal outcomes.
Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Hannah Bryson, Postdoctoral Researcher, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Jodie Smith, Research Fellow, La Trobe University
The link below is to an article that takes a look at ways to help you read more and develop a habit of reading.
Recent research from the Literacy Trust has indicated that children’s interest in and enjoyment of reading increased during lockdown. However, some children who were less confident as readers did not report that their reading was as easily supported by parents when schools and libraries were closed. As some parts of the UK go into lockdown, what books can parents and carers share with children that both adults and children can both enjoy?
In this wonderful picture book for kids aged three to six, an officious cat explains to a frog why it must sit on a log, even though it is bumpy and there is a danger of splinters in the bottom. All animals must sit on objects that rhyme, such as pumas on satsumas and gorillas on chinchillas. The inventive rhymes, combined with Jim Field’s colourful illustrations, will provide many laughs and make repeated sharing enjoyable.
Illustrations by Jim Field.
Rocket loves looking up at the stars and wants to be an astronaut when she grows up, like Mae Jamieson, the first Black woman to travel into space. Her brother Jamal, who is more interested in looking down at his phone, has promised to take her to the park to see a meteor shower, but first, they have to go to the supermarket, where Rocket tries to get the other shoppers excited with amazing space facts. Can she interest her neighbours? And will anyone else come to the park? Rocket’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the tender portrayal of the siblings’ relationship will delight adults and children six and up.
Illustrations by Dapo Adeola.
Harriet Versus the Galaxy by Samantha Baines
Harriet has had to move in with her gran because her dad’s lorry driving job takes him away from home. While looking for her hearing aid under her bed, Harriet finds an alien and discovers that when she wears her aid she can understand its language. Harriet learns that her gran is a member of an intergalactic security agency and Earth is under attack. Can Harriet, her new friend Robin, her gran and a sock munching alien save the planet? This funny and exciting book, from inclusive publishers Knights Of, has short chapters and lively illustrations, making it a perfect shared book for readers not quite ready to read a novel for themselves (ages six to 11).
Illustrations Jessica Flores.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
Ten-year-old Morrigan Crow was born on the unluckiest day, Eventide, and as such is blamed for all misfortunes that befall her town. Worst of all, Morrigan is cursed to die midnight on her eleventh birthday. However, just before the curse can come true she is whisked away by traveller, adventurer and hotel proprietor Jupiter North to the hidden Free State city of Nevermoor, home of the Wundrus Society. Can Morrigan pass the trials to join the mysterious society? Can she outwit the Free State immigration officers? And is Morrigan’s life still in danger?
This book is enormous fun. Jessica Townsend has created a fantastic cast of characters, and it would be a wonderful book to read with or to children aged eight and above. The audiobook, read by Gemma Whelan, would also be wonderful to share.
Sawbones by Catherine Johnson
Film writer and novelist Catherine Johnson is well known for her historical novels, and this is one of her best. In 18th-century London, Ezra McAdam, a mixed-race 16-year-old surgeon’s apprentice, foils a break-in at his master’s house. This sets off an exciting chain of events that include grave robbing and murder. Along the way he is befriended by Loveday Finch, the daughter of a man whose murdered body has similar injuries to corpses that Ezra has dissected; can Ezra and Loveday survive to find out the truth behind her father’s murder? A fantastically exciting read to be shared and discussed with readers aged ten and above.
The link below is to an article that looks at apps that read text aloud.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that looks at why it’s so difficult to read a book at the moment.
The link below is to an article that looks at websites that help people find what book they might want to read next.
For more visit:
The links below are to articles that takes a look at Google’s new ‘Read Along’ app, designed to assist kids learning to read.
For more visit:
In recent years the orthodoxy that Shakespeare can only be truly appreciated on stage has become widespread. But, as with many of our habits and assumptions, lockdown gives us a chance to think differently. Now could be the time to dust off the old collected works, and read some Shakespeare, just as people have been doing for more than 400 years.
Many people have said they find reading Shakespeare a bit daunting, so here are five tips for how to make it simpler and more pleasurable.
1. Ignore the footnotes
If your edition has footnotes, pay no attention to them. They distract you from your reading and de-skill you, so that you begin to check everything even when you actually know what it means.
It’s useful to remember that nobody ever understood all this stuff – have a look at Macbeth’s knotty “If it were done when ‘tis done” speech in Act 1 Scene 7 for an example (and nobody ever spoke in these long, fancy speeches either – Macbeth’s speech is again a case in point). Footnotes are just the editor’s attempt to deny this.
Try to keep going and get the gist – and remember, when Shakespeare uses very long or esoteric words, or highly involved sentences, it’s often a deliberate sign that the character is trying to deceive himself or others (the psychotic jealousy of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, for instance, expresses itself in unusual vocabulary and contorted syntax).
2. Pay attention to the shape of the lines
The layout of speeches on the page is like a kind of musical notation or choreography. Long speeches slow things down – and, if all the speeches end at the end of a complete line, that gives proceedings a stately, hierarchical feel – as if the characters are all giving speeches rather than interacting.
Short speeches quicken the pace and enmesh characters in relationships, particularly when they start to share lines (you can see this when one line is indented so it completes the half line above), a sign of real intimacy in Shakespeare’s soundscape.
Blank verse, the unrhymed ten-beat iambic pentamenter structure of the Shakespearean line, varies across his career. Early plays – the histories and comedies – tend to end each line with a piece of punctuation, so that the shape of the verse is audible. John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II is a good example.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.
Later plays – the tragedies and the romances – tend towards a more flexible form of blank verse, with the sense of the phrase often running over the line break. What tends to be significant is contrast, between and within the speech rhythms of scenes or characters (have a look at Henry IV Part 1 and you’ll see what I mean).
3. Read small sections
Shakespeare’s plays aren’t novels and – let’s face it – we’re not usually in much doubt about how things will work out. Reading for the plot, or reading from start to finish, isn’t necessarily the way to get the most out of the experience. Theatre performances are linear and in real time, but reading allows you the freedom to pace yourself, to flick back and forwards, to give some passages more attention and some less.
Shakespeare’s first readers probably did exactly this, zeroing in on the bits they liked best, or reading selectively for the passages that caught their eye or that they remembered from performance, and we should do the same. Look up where a famous quotation comes: “All the world’s a stage”, “To be or not to be”, “I was adored once too” – and read either side of that. Read the ending, look at one long speech or at a piece of dialogue – cherry pick.
One great liberation of reading Shakespeare for fun is just that: skip the bits that don’t work, or move on to another play. Nobody is going to set you an exam.
4. Think like a director
On the other hand, thinking about how these plays might work on stage can be engaging and creative for some readers. Shakespeare’s plays tended to have minimal stage directions, so most indications of action in modern editions of the plays have been added in by editors.
Most directors begin work on the play by throwing all these instructions away and working them out afresh by asking questions about what’s happening and why. Stage directions – whether original or editorial – are rarely descriptive, so adding in your chosen adverbs or adjectives to flesh out what’s happening on your paper stage can help clarify your interpretations of character and action.
One good tip is to try to remember characters who are not speaking. What’s happening on the faces of the other characters while Katherine delivers her long, controversial speech of apparent wifely subjugation at the end of The Taming of the Shrew?
5. Don’t worry
The biggest obstacle to enjoying Shakespeare is that niggling sense that understanding the works is a kind of literary IQ test. But understanding Shakespeare means accepting his open-endedness and ambiguity. It’s not that there’s a right meaning hidden away as a reward for intelligence or tenacity – these plays prompt questions rather than supplying answers.
Would Macbeth have killed the king without the witches’ prophecy? Exactly – that’s the question the play wants us to debate, and it gives us evidence to argue on both sides. Was it right for the conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar? Good question, the play says: I’ve been wondering that myself.
Returning to Shakespeare outside the dutiful contexts of the classroom and the theatre can liberate something you might not immediately associate with his works: pleasure.
The link below is to an article that claims children who own more books read better – which is fairly obvious I suppose.