What is literacy and why is it important? A guide for parents and guardians

Schools often emphasise the importance of literacy in their communication with parents. It’s regarded as a vital life skill – but what exactly does ‘literacy’ mean, why is it important and how can families support the development of their child’s literacy skills? Find out in this guide.

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What does literacy mean?

You might think of literacy as the ability to read and write – but it’s far more than that. It also includes the ability to:

1 Process information, by reading or listening
2 Analyse this information and structure thinking
3 Show understanding and knowledge in writing or speaking.

Why is literacy important?

Looking at the definition above, it’s easy to see that literacy isn’t confined to school English lessons These skills are necessary for success in any subject – the importance of literacy extends right across the curriculum. In fact, literacy goes way beyond school and into adulthood, in every area of academic, social, personal and work life:

Academic performance and qualifications right across the curriculum
Self-expression, self-understanding and social confidence
Job opportunities

How can I support my child’s literacy development?

There’s no doubt about the importance of literacy. The National Curriculum requires schools to develop literacy strategies to maximise their students’ literacy, but that doesn’t mean that as a parent there is nothing more you can do.

Even if you’re not especially confident in reading yourself, your interest and support in your child’s learning will go a long way. Parental support and encouragement at every educational stage can have a huge impact on children’s engagement with their learning.

In addition, outside the school curriculum there are many ways you can support your child’s literacy. You don’t need to devote a lot of time – even having meaningful discussions (whether about real life, books, or even TV) while you’re cooking or driving are all valuable and don’t require specific time to be set aside.

When it comes to reading, your child doesn’t have to read only long, complex books. Reading of all kinds is valuable, whether that’s the internet, magazines, comics or more – and of course audio books are another way of absorbing information, too. Our article Fun ways to improve your child’s literacy has many more easy suggestions.

When it comes to linking your child’s literacy development back to their school learning, as well as showing an interest and encouraging them to share it with you, ensure you make the most of your relationship with their teachers. There are many ways to do this:

Reading relevant communications from the school, including setting up any free parent/guardian accounts they share for their learning technology (for example, when students use the Bedrock Vocabulary curriculum at school their parents also get an account that shows them their child’s usage and progress)
Attending parents’ evenings
Contacting them with queries or concerns about your child’s understanding of what they are being taught

In short, the closer the relationship between home and school, the more likely your child is to make progress in their literacy and see this progress reflected in their school reports and grades.

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