There is a proven link between low literacy levels and poverty. Children eligible for free school meals are less likely than their more affluent peers to read well. And this lack of basic literacy skills is a primary cause of these children remaining in poverty as adults, with all the risks and missed opportunities this entails. It is well recognised that those who struggle with reading struggle with all aspects of education. Behaviour becomes an issue as a way to conceal their inability to read or cope with their embarrassment. Self-esteem plummets. When these children in turn become adults whose reading skills are inadequate for everyday needs, they find themselves isolated from society – so much regular interaction is now done online. As parents who can’t read, they can’t help their children with their homework. They can’t even understand the texts from their children’s school or the instructions on their medication. Family relationships are put under strain. Adults with poor literacy are proven to be more likely to be unemployed or on low wages, to need state support and to struggle with mental health problems such as obesity or depression. Half of UK prisoners have a reading age of an 11 year old or less. Outcomes are poor for those who never get to grips with the written word.
This week is National Children’s Book Week – first launched here in the UK back in 1931 and celebrating its 100thyear in the USA. What a perfect time to focus on the joy of books and the pleasure that reading can bring; the empathy that can be learnt by relating to the experiences of a fictional character; and the knowledge far beyond a child’s real-life experience that can be acquired from a factual book. But also what an appropriate time to remind ourselves that reading is a fundamental skill and to remember that becoming a confident reader will change a child’s life.
Early intervention is the key to breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty. The primary schools Learn to Love to Read partners with are generally geographically situated in areas of poverty, such as housing estates. A significant proportion of families in these schools fall into the categories of need and risk described above. Ourwork uses early intervention and a whole family approach to improve children’s reading and build self-confidence, allowing them to achieve academically and access ambitious life opportunities. Please do visit our website www.learn2love2read.org.uk to find out more about our work and how your support could help more children learn to love to read.
Written by Teresa Harris, Founder and Trustee of Wandsworth literacy charity, Learn to Love to Read