5 useful hints to help with primary school reading during lockdown – Jon Aspinox Writes

5 useful hints to help with primary school reading during lockdown

First things first, lucky you! What a joy to have some time to share stories with your children. I still remember the loveliness of snuggling up with my parents as a child and being read to. I frequently tell children in my class that I believe stories are the best thing in the world; in my opinion, they are the basis of humanity. Our memories are stories. We connect with people by telling them our stories and hearing theirs. So much of our entertainment is based on following stories (both real and made up) whether it be TV, video games or tabloid newspapers. We are obsessed. And very often, reading is the window to stories.

During this lockdown period, I’d recommend taking every opportunity you can to do a bit of reading together with your child and at the very least:

  • KS1: 5 minutes shared reading of a book your child can access (read) themselves, and two picture which you just read to them – perhaps one during the day and one at bedtime (or two chapters of a short chapter book if that’s more appropriate for your child).
  • KS2: 10 minutes shared reading of a book your child can access, and a couple of chapters of a higher level book which you just read to them – perhaps one chapter during the day and one at bedtime.

Decoding and comprehension – the skills of reading

There are two key parts to learning to read: learning what word is created by the combination of letters, and learning to understand what the words (by themselves and together) mean. The first one we call decoding; the latter, comprehension. During your shared reading session together, you should help them with both.  

Decoding is taught in school through phonics lessons. These teach children what sounds letters (or groups of letters) make. For example you can sound out the word ‘sight’ as ‘s-igh-t,’ where ‘igh’ make the sound of the letter name I. They will also be being taught how to recognise words that don’t fit the phonetic rules, that they just need to know, like ‘said’ or ‘some’.

Phonics is very difficult to teach without years of training and experience. For example, do you know the 6 different spellings of the phoneme /c/? (It’s k, ck, qu, x and ch just in case you’re curious). I therefore wouldn’t worry too much about trying to help them sound out a word they don’t know – if you’re not confident with the sounds, just tell them the word.

If you do want your children to do some phonics practise, the website PhonicsPlay is brilliant and has made access free. There are fantastic learning resources including games which your child will likely be familiar with as the website is often used in phonics lessons.

However, sounding out isn’t the only strategy for helping them decode so you might want to encourage them to try some of the tactics in the graphic below, if they’re struggling with a word:

Source: TES

When it talks about ‘flipping the sound’ it means exploring alternative pronunciations of letters. For example the letter ‘a’ makes a short vowel sound /æ/ in apple and a long vowel sound /a:/ in acorn.

For comprehension, you just need to ask your child a few questions as they’re reading and discuss the book. Don’t overwhelm them with questions; I’d say maybe one every two pages in KS1 and one or two per page in KS2. Some schools teach reading comprehension through the VIPERS skills. These stand for Vocabulary, Infer, Predict, Explain, Retrieve and Summarise and cover all the bases when it comes to understanding texts. Some example question stems are below, try to cover a few of the different skills during a shared read.

KS1 question stems:

Source: https://www.st-margaretsifield.w-sussex.sch.uk/page/?title=Reading&pid=1237

KS2 question stems:

Source: https://www.st-margaretsifield.w-sussex.sch.uk/page/?title=Reading&pid=1237

Make it fun!

Some children are reluctant to read with their parents – or at all. If you are struggling with that, here are some tips:

  • Read anything – signs, magazines, comics, the internet, messages on your phone. Reading is reading.
  • Share the load – take it in turns to read a page, sentence or even a word each. A nice way to do this is have a signal for when you want the other person to take over. They may want you to do almost all of the reading at first – that’s fine, don’t pressure them.
  • Go somewhere really cool to do your reading – like cosying up in your bed, in a homemade den in the kitchen, underneath or on top of the table, in a wheelbarrow…
  • Schedule it for the same time each day – mention how you’re looking forward to it, make both of you a drink and get a biscuit.
  • If all else fails, bribe them!

A story is a story – thinking beyond books

Returning to my opening theme of stories, something to remember is that alongside teaching your children the skills of reading, teachers are also trying to instil a love of stories in your children. With that in mind, during lockdown I would suggest not stressing too much about how much screen time your children are getting.

Like books, TV shows and films take us out of ourselves and on a journey. I’m not suggesting you park them in front of the telly and call it home schooling – of course it needs to be balanced with playing and being creative – but as I say, a story is a story, whether it’s a book, a comic, a TV drama or even a video game.

Of course, watching TV won’t help your child with decoding words (apart from when it does – see below), but it does help them with comprehension. As they follow the story, they are learning about character development, story structures, stylistic devices of different genres, even pathetic fallacy… all by osmosis! These will not only help their comprehension skills but also aid their writing.

So, if your child really doesn’t fancy reading one day, or one week… why not have them watch a TV show (even better if it’s one they wouldn’t usually watch) and ask them some VIPERS questions from the lists above.

Turn on the subtitles

There is currently a campaign trying to get TV companies to automatically turn on subtitles on children’s shows. The campaigners claim that it will enhance children’s reading ability, but also spelling, grammar and vocabulary. This is based on academic research and has been endorsed by children’s authors, educators, and celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Bill Clinton.

You don’t need the TV companies to turn on the subtitles for you of course, you can do it yourself! Maybe make it a condition of watching for the child that’s nagging for one more episode?

What books to read?

For shared reading:

Hopefully your child’s school sent them home with a few reading books which are at the right level for them. For more books of the same reading band, there are hundreds of free ebooks now available at Oxford Owl: if you’re unsure what reading band your child should be on, there is a very simple assessment here.

If your child is happily reading chapter books by themselves, they understand what they are reading and have progressed beyond the reading bands (been moved to ‘free reader’ by the school), Amazon has made lots of books free too. They also have offers on kindles so if you don’t have one, it may be a good time to invest!

For you reading to them:

The stories you choose to read to them should be a higher level than they can read themselves. This exposes them to new and advanced language, and hearing you read teaches them how to put expression into their own reading. If you don’t have many books at home, this is a brilliant website to help you find new ones to buy with reviews and extracts. And again, Amazon has a great selection of free chapter books for Kindle.

If you don’t have time to read to to your child(ren), audible has made hundreds of children’s books free to listen to, with no subscription required.

If you’re really stuck for inspiration, I also highly recommend the following books for reading to children:


  • The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy – a tale of magic and friendship. Great characters and a moreish story.
  • My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards – each chapter is an individual story of cheeky naughtiness and fun, where the naughty little sister often learns her lesson. The author manages to make the stories really easy to follow without talking down to children. Just genius.
  • Anything by Beatrix Potter. They might feel old fashioned but they are magical – and in my experience children respond to them amazingly.
  • The ‘magical’ books by Enid Blyton (the ones about pixies and fairies, like The Enchanted Wood. Save Malory Towers or Famous Five for older children).
  • Anything by Julia Donaldson or Axel Schleffer.


  • The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis – the first in the Narnia series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is book two). It tells the story of how Narnia came into being. It has a variety of wonderfully described settings which capture children’s imagination and is gripping at times and peaceful and lovely at others. In my experience it inspires children to read the other six books by themselves, which are all brilliant reads.
  • Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – wonderful story about the lovely relationship between a boy and his dad and the adventures they have together. Great for a parent to read to their child, particularly dads.
  • Harry Potter by JK Rowling – this goes without saying. Amazing series.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

Books you may want to avoid…

This is a little controversial of me but there are some very popular books which I believe are either bad examples of writing, or stories where the characters are bad role models. These books are Horrid Henry, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and some books by David Walliams. If these books are what your child wants to read then I wouldn’t discourage them – it’s great they want to read anything! But if you have a choice, they may not be the best ones.

Finally, be a reader yourself 

We have such busy lives as adults that often reading for pleasure doesn’t feel like a priority. We’ve got Netflix for our story fix, and who has the time to go hunting for a really good read? And it seems to me that the latest bestsellers all include a really big twist which is always depressing, like the loveable character we’ve invested our hearts in dies suddenly.

But reading can be so worthwhile. Getting your head stuck into a proper page turner is the most wonderful feeling, and I believe that because books fire our imaginations, they can be so much more powerful than TV or video can. It’s also such a good example for your children. If you never read, why should they?

If you’re not sure where to start, perhaps try a classic you’ve never gotten around to – I’m currently reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, for instance. On the kindle there are hundreds of free classics. Search for 100 books you must read before you die – there are several volumes. Even better if you already kind of know the story because you watched a TV adaption once. You know you like how the story turns out and often the book is better!

I also heartily recommend the following books for adults – I’ve not found anyone who’s been disappointed with these:

  • Liane Moriaty books (particularly The Husband’s Secret and What Alice Forgot
  • Agatha Christie books (particularly And Then There Were None and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans)
  • The Enchanted April
  • A Room With A View 
  • Harry Potter (try and tell me you didn’t love it – I dare you!)

If you’re looking for some help with other subjects, you can find my in-depth guides to writing and maths. I’ve also created some advice for parents struggling to motivate their kids to do their work, and some general tips on home-schooling during lockdown. Hope you find them useful!

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4 thoughts on “5 useful hints to help with primary school reading during lockdown

  1. I’m so glad I found your guides, I will be coming back to them again and again as there is so much helpful information.
    A book for adults I would recommend is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

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