The National Literacy Trust estimates that 5.1 million adults in the UK are illiterate, with a reading and writing age below aged 11. That is not ‘illiterate’. ‘Illiterate means ‘unable to read or write’ according to the dictionary. Most 8, 9 and 10 year olds can read and write quite adequately for daily purposes, they just can’t (or probably wouldn’t want to) read Charles Dickens or Robert Louis Stevenson.

When I am writing resources or activities for parents I work with the parents of my beloved former inner-city Middle School in Bradford in mind, or the many impoverished areas in Kirklees where I worked, or Chris Dyson’s beloved Parklands Primary School in Seacroft, Leeds. Almost every one of those parents, unless they are new to English as a language, can read The Sun or The Mirror newspapers, can write a shopping list or a note to a family member. They have functional language – although it may not be accurate it serves the daily purposes. I write for parents in a style to make what I am saying accessible for everyone who has a reading age of 8+.

There is a misnomer circulating that all home schooling should be practising skills and knowledge already taught and that parents should not be teaching new material. This is not only patronising – it is the route to failure. Parents make home-schooling more fun when they are addressing subjects and aspects they themselves enjoyed or are interested in or would like to learn with their children. If they are following our advice (see Home Schooling for Parents) they will be using Google (or similar search engines) to find ‘How to learn Spanish for Children’ or ‘How did the Tudor people live? For Children’ or whatever their interest is. If the material is online for children to learn from it, the parents will be perfectly well able to access and use it too.

I advise that parents plan 4 to 5 sessions a day, lasting up to 3 hours for children aged 5 to 7 and 3 to 5 hours a day for children aged 8 to 11. There should be a short relaxing’ break between the sessions with a proper playtime in the middle. The relaxing break may be colouring the next bit of a pattern, doing hand and arm exercises to music or singing along to a popular song.

The daily sessions should be a mix of academic with artistic each day, interspersed to maintain interest. So, a daily routine might be:

Monday: Maths; colour; history (The Egyptians) ; writing (may be about the Egyptians); sing; PE to TV

Tuesday: Reading; colour; maths; sing; music to TV or internet; geography (Egypt from Internet); art

Wednesday: Story writing; colour; maths; sing; PE; construction (Lego or boxes etc); snuggling story

Thursday:  Science (how to …); colour; maths; art (Egyptian wall paintings); role play or puppets; write a playscript

Friday:  Maths; sing; art; read / act or use puppets with the playscript; colour; dance; snuggling story

And so on…

Being conscious of the possible reading age of your audience has certain responsibilities.

They include:

  • Don’t make sentences too long or complex.
  • Don’t put more than 2 points in a sentence. Would just one be better?
  • Don’t use hard words if a simple one would do.
  • The technical language is not the priority – it can soon be learnt later.
  • The theory behind is not the priority – it can soon be provided later.
  • Use a larger font than usual.
  • Don’t set too much repetitive work without variation.
  • Don’t assume parents can’t or shouldn’t tackle something new. They will if it interests them.
  • Give parents choices. Eg ask if they would like to do the Romans, the Vikings or the Aztecs?
  • Explain that in models like the one above, the word ‘Egyptian’ could be changed to any other peoples from the past.