The model parent? Whose job is it to teach kids literacy really?

One aspect of my job currently is to support schools with strengthening their literacy teaching. I’ve been helping schools to implement easy techniques to upskill students so that they can give them a better chance at passing the new common achievement assessments in reading and writing which are now a compulsory exam requirement for Level One NCEA.

In the news lately politicians are scrapping about how the education system is failing our kids. National wants to make reading, writing and maths compulsory for an hour each a day. (It’s numeracy they need by the way Mr Luxon and why do you think these things sit outside of other learning?). There are advocates on every side wanting schools to ‘be’ a certain way (usually how they ‘used to be’) in order to create thriving literate and articulate young people.

But what if we started at home? Hear me out.

I once met a parent whose 11 year old boy was illiterate. He was getting into trouble at school and wagging classes regularly. She was complaining about the useless teachers who had failed her child. I asked her what she had tried at home. She said nothing.

Once my Classics teacher at high school wisely said to me, ‘You can tell which students don’t have books at home you know’. I thought he was joking because I had never thought that could be possible. No books? No reading at home? Now working in schools across New Zealand, I see all too clearly what he means.

And just yesterday I read about how Dolly Parton decreased school drop outs and raised literacy levels by doing two really simple things – introducing a buddy system and giving kids free books. Buddies and books. Wow. That’s not rocket science.

So what does all of this make you think about?

Kids need access to literacy skills at home. Home and school should be the buddy system. Home learning needs to be an integral part of the system. Kids should be playing with letters and words and reading and writing at home too. The ‘too’ is the tool that is missing.

The NZ government has released a document called ’10 effective literacy practices’ as part of its NCEA change package. Schools are encouraged to read and reflect on what they already do well and what might be a target for improvement. My challenge is for every parent to target them too.

Here they are in short form:

1. Promote a positive attitude to literacy

2. Provide lots of opportunities for reading and writing

3. Connect reading and writing

4. Show how you read and write

5. Support them to read critically

6.  Help them to build vocabulary

7. Scaffold writing to focus on text type/structure

8. Scaffold writing to focus on language

9. Use a writer’s checklist

10. Give feedback

You can read the full document here:

Or how about this? This ‘too’ is what we need at home.

Read to them. Read with them. Read in front of them. Read beside them.

Write with them. Write in front of them. Write beside them.

Talk about reading. Talk about writing. Talk about thinking. Talk about noticing and wondering.

Use words. Celebrate words. Play with words. Discover words. Talk about words.

I’m an avid reader and writer. Our kids see me scribbling, reading, writing, asking if I have the right word often.

We value books. We gift books. We love the library.

Every little bit helps but the biggest little thing to help with kids’ literacy is the ‘too’ of learning at home too. It’s our job as parents to start modeling how we want kids to be.

Books, books, glorious books – the easiest way to give kids a head start at home.


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