About 8 years ago I was staying in a building where a literacy programme was running for young adults who needed a ‘fresh start’ and literacy help. As a group of home educators, late readers were nothing new to us, most of us there had at least one 8 year old who was not yet an independent reader but meeting a 17 year old for whom the written word was a complete mystery was something very new to me. With my privileged upbringing and schooling I simply couldn’t imagine it.
And then I chatted to this young man for a while and everything I understood about reading as a right changed. He was a nice lad but school had utterly failed him. It was the look in his eyes that stuck with me; his eyes were dead as we talked. He was all filled up with shame and failure and loss of hope and he didn’t have anything left in him to believe he could make it – but he was smart enough to know that if he didn’t, he was as good as lost.
As a home educator I’m cautious about pushing for children to be hauled through reading skills too early; I think we potentially do much damage by forcing ‘literacy’ on babies of four and five. Three of my four girls have cracked skillful, independent reading at age 8 or more but, tucked away at home and surrounded by books and stories, this didn’t matter at all. My girls have always been surrounded by the written word; they’ve read it, been read it, fallen asleep to CDs and iPods full of it. All of them have come to reading naturally, assembling the skills in a supported, slow cooker environment until they were ready to fly alone. With the possible exception of Josie, who started school while still teetering on the brink of the moment where it all came together, it has just happened.
There are many things I’m proud of my girls for, but knowing they can sink happily into a good book gives me enormous pleasure. They are lucky girls in many ways but some of the greatest wealth they own is littered around the house like this photo – and they know it.
But here’s the thing.
In the UK 1 in 8 children leave primary school functionally illiterate. 50% of the people arrested during the London riots had been unable to read at age 11. It’s one thing to have a slow start – it’s quite another to never catch up. And our poorest children, the ones most compromised already in nearly every aspect of their life, are also living in a land without written stories.
Along with struggling to apply for jobs, read a recipe, hold down paid employment, read to their baby, read the side effects on a medicine bottle, follow safety labels, use eBay effectively and decipher their gas bill, they are going to live a life without stories.
It breaks my heart that there is a sizable portion of the children and young adults in this country who think Lucy Pevensie, Charlie Bucket, Harry Potter, Lyra Belacqua and Katniss Everdeen are characters in a film. It’s such a fast food snack of a way to know those worlds, those people, those ideas and thoughts.
I don’t think that should be anyone’s future.
And if that’s not enough to have you asking for my call to action, watch this:
Beanstalk is the new name for Volunteer Reading Help and is taking part in a campaign with Save the Children to change the story for the children in the UK who need extra support to open the book on reading. My short brush with how schools can do this well, via Josie’s experience, has inspired me considerably. Home has still been the place that made the difference but a positive, resourced and supportive classroom has really helped give her confidence and every child should get that. Her experience was that once she assimilated the skills and acquired the desire, she just needed practice. You could sign up to be someone who helps children get that practice.
It’s just wrong that Britain, this isle of words, has children locked in poverty who are so far behind in learning to read that they may never catch up. Being seven is Too Young to Fail.
What you can do.
Find out about Born to Read, tweet and blog about it, using the hashtag #EducationMatters. Get involved in asking politicians to support reading and initiatives in classrooms so that we can change the story. Keep reading the blog posts asking for your help. Write a blog post. Be passionate about books and stories and the utter necessity that the children of today grow up ready to read about Narnia and District 12 to their children, while equipping them with the life skills they need to do the same when it is their turn to be parents.
We can’t carry on letting this slip away.
Please tweet this post and share it wherever you can and be a change maker. Share the link to the Save the Children campaign. Give your voice, your time and your influence to making sure we change the story for the future of the children of this country.
Tell me about your reading journey. Tell me about what is good and bad about how your kids are learning to read. Tell me the books you love, they loved. Instagram a picture of them reading, of the books in your house, of a picture they drew of their favourite story or character. If you write a blog post, even if it is just a quick photo and a few lines, leave me a link and I’ll tweet you and share your words. (My comments are follow links 😉 )
I’m going to sign up with Beanstalk, because ShareNiger taught me that if you want to change something, you have to actually do some of it yourself. What could you do?