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Why do children find literacy difficult? How to set them on the 'write' path.

tabitha heaton park

When I was at school….many, many moons ago….I remember mathematics being the subject that everyone loved to hate. Even if you loved it, or ‘got it’ you hated it because that was the done thing

Nobody, just nobody, enjoyed a maths lesson. I never really gave maths a second thought once I’d left school, well certainly not in the academic sense, but I do admit to absolutely falling in love with the subject when I did my teacher training thirty years after leaving school.Nobody, just nobody, enjoyed a maths lesson. I never really gave maths a second thought once I’d left school, well certainly not in the academic sense, but I do admit to absolutely falling in love with the subject when I did my teacher training thirty years after leaving school.


I was a career changer (or adding to my talents as I like to think of it) and coming from a background in journalism and communications I was excited at the prospect of teaching literacy to my pupils. How I would get them enthused about creating writing. How I would engage them in debates. How wrong was I? So wrong in fact that I was to face a class who groaned at the mere mention of literacy but instead looked forward to maths.


Unheard of, I argued with myself. And whilst I commended the children on their enthusiasm for my new-found love – mathematics, I was indeed perplexed. Until eventually I realised the crux of the problem. Writing, they said, was difficult – both physically and mentally. The latter more so. Thankfully, for them, the practice of writing lines for punishment has been scrapped as surely they would not cope. Unused to writing anything in length their fingers could simply not keep up with the pace….any pace!


So, that explained the physical difficulty, what of the mental? Well, a planned classroom debate flopped spectacularly. Why? Because the children didn’t have the words to articulate themselves clearly and form reasonable arguments. Their vocabulary was sorely limited and if they couldn’t articulate their thoughts and feelings they certainly couldn’t write them down. It was an uphill struggle.


Supported by the theories I studied whilst training to be a teacher I came to two conclusions. One, that their lack of social encounters meant that my pupils’ experience of the world was limited in comparison to their peers in more affluent areas and two, that their limited access to literature in the home (I did ask) contributed to the lack of vocabulary they could draw upon for their writing.


Thus discovered, two of the things that I valued highly as a teacher were school trips and having a class library full of exciting books that they were ever so keen to explore. However, one just cannot underestimate the importance of these factors beyond the school gate. A trip to a local nature reserve, national park etc need not be costly but can be a valuable learning experience. I’ll never forget my own childhood outings. When we returned home my Dad would encourage me to write about the outing and I so enjoyed crafting humorous recounts of our fun-filled days.


And books…fill their lives with books and encourage reading from a very early age. There is so much to be gained from the escapism of a damn good read. Improved spelling, comprehension and vocabulary and the ability to unwind with a great book.


I really do believe that if every child in the country benefitted from books and trips literacy levels would soar. Of course, there are other things that come into play such as a child’s emotional well-being but implement those two factors and I’m certain we’d have a nation of school children with a burning desire to write.

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