Little Reading Challenge
Our children's mental health has been effected by Covid-19 and multiple lockdowns. Are we shocked? No. This is the news - a study from Oxford University has revealed that "children and young people experienced highest levels of mental health issues in June 2020 and February 2021, when restrictions were most stringent. Overall, primary school children have had greater changes in levels of mental health difficulties throughout the pandemic." Add to that, "the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) launched research that shows an increased number of four- and five-year-olds need help with language. 76% of primary schools surveyed by EEF said pupils starting school in September 2020 needed more support with communication than in previous years. The data shows the clear and urgent need to combat the pandemic’s severe impact on children’s learning and literacy." It started me thinking - what can we do to help? What are the tools that we, as parents, have at our fingertips, that don't require a lot of time, energy and money - because after the 18 months we've had, none of us have got time, energy or money to spare. And I have a glorious and simple answer for you. Reading. No, it won't fix the whole problem, but here's what reading with your little ones (and not so little ones) can do: For children of all ages, reading both fiction and non fiction books helps to identify feelings and emotions. Fiction books show characters overcoming challenges, dealing with their emotions, finding solutions, finding friends, finding comfort. Books teach our young readers that it is ok to experience a range of emotions, and that it is possible to find comfort and move forward. Reading can help children identify and process the feelings of stress and anxiety - whether that stems from personal fears, family pressures, or the loss of equilibruim which comes with constant and unpredictable change (and let's be fair, as adults we're feeling all of this too - we just have a better understanding of what we're feeling). Books help our children to know that they are not alone with these feelings. That they are normal, that they can and will pass, that talking to someone we trust about our fears will help. Perhaps one of the hardest things for our children to manage right now is feelings of grief and loss. Books can help children understand their feelings, whether they stem from the death of a loved one, or from missing friends and teachers and 'normality'. Books teach our children that grief and loss are part of life, but that we can find hope and comfort in the people we love, and by talking about the people and things that we have lost. Our children's social skills - and the self awareness and self esteem that comes with those skills - have taken something of a hit throughout the last year. School closures and the lack of baby and parent classes, lockdowns and restrictions on social interactions have meant that a time when the developing human should nothing much more to do than learn how to interact with others, make friends and understand their peers, has just not been possible. For children born in the first lockdown of 2020, it's possible that they have never seen another baby, that their first experience of meeting peers will be when they start day care. That is a MASSIVE change and a very steep learning curve for our little ones. There are plenty of books out there though to help you and your little ones explore the ideas of friendships, school/nursery settings, routines, identity, difference, loneliness, resillience, and self-discovery. Reading for just 10-15 minutes, one to one with your child gives them time to feel comforted, that they have your full attention, that they are important. All of these things will help with stress and anxiety that they may be feeling but unable to express other than through cries and 'acting out'. Children as young as 6 months benefit from this time spent reading with an important grown up. It not only helps to improve their emotional well being, but it will also help to combat the gap in literacy identified by the EEF. Reading with little ones makes sure they hear new words, and even preverbal children need to hear a variety of words in order to be able to develop their speech and language skills and reading and literacy skills as they get older. If you can, add in signing with your reading to really give children a boost with both vocabulary and their emotional wellbeing. So, are you ready to embrace reading with your little ones? Are you up for a little challenge? Join our Little Reading Challenge throughout June to read one 'new' book every day with your little ones, and keep a note of what they (and you) enjoyed and what didn't engage them. All the details on how to sign up and get involved can be found here and I will be posting every day throughout June to share our own reading adventures and discoveries with you. I'll also be popping videos up on the 'Extra Hurrahs' page with the signs to accompany some of our favourite books, if you'd like to sign along with your little ones. Let's do this!