How to Engage Children in Literacy

Engaging Children in Literacy

“Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world.”

– National Literacy Trust

If you are looking for inspiration on how you can engage children in literacy, you can jump straight to our list of literacy activities.

Did you know that 16.4% of adults in England (that’s about 7.1 million people), can be described as having ‘very poor literacy skills? While 1 in 4 children left primary school in 2019 unable to read to the required standard [DfE].

It’s increasingly worrying that a number of children advance through school unable to read and write properly. Adults with poor literacy skills are at a disproportionate disadvantage. They are more likely to work underpaid, low-skilled jobs or be unemployed. While as a parent they won’t be able to properly support their child’s learning. On top of that, they may struggle with frustration, confidence and have low self-esteem issues. Literacy deeply impacts our access to education, limits economic development, jobs, career progression and life outcomes. Presented with the fact that children with reading difficulties face developing mental health problems later in life, including depression, anxiety and anger, this paints a challenging picture of the larger impact of having low literacy levels.

Why is literacy important in education?

Reading and writing plays an essential part in learning and can be considered a fundamental backbone to all aspects of education and the curriculum. Literacy development is key to children’s ability to engage in education and communicate with others. It also helps them to make effective decisions, think analytically, engage in critical thinking, grasp new concepts and be cognitively flexible. Those without basic foundation literacy skills are unlikely to excel in school and later studies. Research carried out by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) has revealed an increasing number of 4 and 5 year olds require help with language and communication.

An increase in digital media, the usage of technology and the exponential growth of digital platforms have changed the way we communicate and interact.  With devices such as iPads, smartphones and e-readers present in everyday life and quickly replacing more traditional sources of learning and entertainment, we must consider the role modern technology plays in childhood development.

It all starts from an early age. From nursery to primary, right through to school leaving age, children should be granted the necessary support, tools and learning opportunities that help them build skills for life.  With evidence showing that poor speech and language development can have long term effects on learning, negatively affecting youngsters later in life, now more than ever, we must focus on speech, language and literacy development in the earliest years.

Why is literacy important for children in day-to-day life?

We know why literacy is important in education, so let’s look at why children must develop literacy skills for day-to-day life.

Social media has rapidly grown over the last decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Though popular services such as Facebook and Twitter provide many benefits to its users, including children, it also presents many dangers. Among these dangers is what’s known as fake news. This phenomenon refers to misleading information or stories that are fiction presented as fact, deliberately created to misinform or deceive readers. These stories can end up influencing people in life.

A study conducted by The Commission On Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills discovered that only 2% of children have the necessary literacy skills to determine whether a news story online is real or fake. This frightening statistic shows how crucial grasping the basics of literacy must be to a child and the adults responsible for their well-being.

Over 60% of teachers believe fake news is harming youngster’s well-being and increasing their anxiety levels. More than 50% believe the national curriculum does not equip children with vital literacy skills to identify false stories. 

How to improve literacy skills in children

It is a well-known fact that children have a much larger capacity for learning than adults. This is why it is so important to instil a love of literacy early on and recognise a need for improvement if required. The key to improving literacy seems to be fostering an enjoyment of it. Whether they are writing letters, poetry, and stories or reading a book, there are many ways children can be engaged to develop their literacy skills. Children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy are 3x times more likely to have higher levels of mental well-being. [National Literacy Trust, 2018].

So how can this love of literacy be encouraged?

Children are natural wordsmiths! We all know they love to play, use their imagination to tell stories, express themselves and tell you all about new words they have learnt.

Incorporating fun activities into everyday learning can help children’s love for reading and literacy blossom. From practising letter formation to writing stories, there are many ways to engage the little ones while building their communication, language, writing, reading and comprehension skills. We have compiled a list of developmentally appropriate literacy activities you can introduce or tweak to reinforce these skills, in or out of the classroom! 

Literacy activities for you and the children to try:

1.      Talking and storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful strategy for improving children’s writing and creative thinking abilities as it does not offer any restraints.

Try offering your child a few random objects and ask them to create a story from them. This activity will incite enthusiasm as children can get as wacky with their stories as they like. Our Really Random Story Bags are designed for this activity. Made up of a “who”, “where” and “what” bag, children can select an object at random and start a story all about their pieces. Maybe this will consist of a mermaid with a pet zebra who lives in a castle. The stranger the objects selected, the better the story!

Another fantastic way to engage children in talking and storytelling is to ask them to put on a show! Ask your little ones to write or plan a story, then act it out using props, puppets and a Puppet Theatre. Not only will it invite the children to get creative, but it will simultaneously boost their language skills and build their vocabulary in a way that is different and much more engaging than traditional storytelling. It also addresses various areas of the curriculum, including communication and language, imaginative play and understanding the world.

Sometimes the simple things are the best. Activities such as singing nursery rhymes or “I spy”, allow children to learn sounds, build their vocabulary and understanding of language, all whilst engaging in a “game”. Such games are a quick and easy way to engage children in literacy and language anywhere and take learning outside the traditional classroom setting. 

2.      Drawing and writing

Writing is a fundamental element of early education, but finding ways to make this exciting for children is often a tricky task. Read on for some fun activities to engage children in writing.

One way is to use prompts, for example, the Really Random Story Bags, and ask children to write down their stories rather than speak them aloud. Children can add to their stories by continuing to select items from the bags. Another helpful resource is our Writing Prompt Cubes. It’s a great activity for children who perhaps find storytelling a bit daunting and need something to spark their imagination. These cubes give children a starting point for something to write about and include a variety of different topics.

A fun group activity that will encourage children to engage in writing is to have a large sheet of paper (why not try our Standard Tuff Tray Paper Pad) and ask one child to start writing a story.  After they have written a sentence or two, let each child take turns to add another sentence and continue this way until they have a completed story. This activity encourages children to think about what has already been written and decide how to continue the story. It will naturally result in a weird and wonderful story that can be read back to the children and will provide endless amusement as they all appreciate their teamwork.

3.      Literacy games

For the more active children who are reluctant to sit still, read or write, physical games are a fantastic way to engage them in literacy.

There are a plethora of resources that can be used to engage children in literacy and general learning whilst simply “playing”. Some examples of these include A-Z Alphabet Cones which can be used indoors or out and can be used to encourage spelling or letter formation by asking children to run to the cone that depicts the letter at a start of a word. Similarly, Initial Sounds Bean Bags can be used to support children’s understanding of the alphabet with the pictures and corresponding letters. Using such resources also allow children to interact with each other and effectively support their learning.

Another resource to use during literacy games is the Alphabet Tuff Tray Mat. It can be used for phonic and alphabet activities while the CVC Fishing Game encourages children to identify and spell out CVC words whilst practising motor skills.

4.      Reading and book-based activities

One of the best ways to improve literacy skills is by encouraging a love of books and maintaining that love. Interaction within reading is a great way to start little learners off. Start your little ones off with books made especially for babies and toddlers, e.g. board books, lift the flap books etc.

Our Story Time Sets are a fantastic multi-sensory kit consisting of fiction and non-fiction books, a set of characters and a puzzle or game to extend reading. They are great for helping to develop all areas of literacy, and with a range of themes to choose from, there is something for everyone!

These story sets give children a fun interactive element alongside reading which makes their experience that little bit more enjoyable. Children can use puppets or characters to complement their reading. Why not encourage them to try different voices for different characters or ask them questions about each character. This way they can engage more in the story.

Reading or listening to a story will help children to develop their vocabulary, ability to listen and concentrate and connect sounds and words. Introduce children to a diverse range of books, e.g. folktales, funny stories, traditional tales etc. This will improve their ability to understand concepts, tones and the world around them.

5.      Free literacy resources

Supporting your little one’s literacy development does not need to be tricky or complicated. Sometimes even the simplest of activities can be the most fun! Printables are a great way to keep your little learners engaged and don’t require much prep. We have lots of fun free literacy and storytelling downloads for you to use in the classroom or at home, including writing, alphabet, letter formation activities and much more.

Try recreating stories and have your little ones put their own spin on traditional tales such as The Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood and The Gingerbread Man. We have a variety of colouring storyboard sheets based on popular tales children know and love. They include all of the main characters from the fairy tale, so as they colour in the sheets you could share the original story and talk to them about the structure of the fairy tale.

Once they fully understand the plot and the chronology, you can switch things up a little! Try telling the story from the perspective of another character or change the story genre. You could even mix characters from different fairy

Our final thoughts

It’s evident that communication and language start early from birth, as you watch babies communicate through sounds, facial expressions and gestures. It’s never too early to begin fostering literacy skills, especially as they are essential to developing a strong sense of the world.

Literacy development doesn’t have to be confined to pencil and paper or ink on a page. The beauty of teaching is that there is an abundance of methods, tools, resources and activities you can use to enhance learning and education. Your main goal should be towards developing an enthusiastic approach to literacy. But most of all, ensuring your environment is rich and inviting so children can truly be immersed in the learning experience and acquire important skills and knowledge that will have them set for life.

collection of story time sets

Work in an early years setting? Read about the Importance of Literacy in the Early Years and How can parents boost their child’s vocabulary?


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