It is well known that vulnerable children with experience of out-of-home care and disadvantaged children are less likely than their peers to own books.
Mental health implications
There are over 400,000 vulnerable children in the UK, and many do not have books to call their own, which means they are missing out on many proven benefits of book ownership, including improved reading skills, reading enjoyment and mental wellbeing.
Research has shown that book ownership has a substantial impact on life outcomes and the poor educational outcomes of looked-after children and young people (LACYP) is a particular concern because of their multifarious reading habits and routines.
In 2019, 55.9% of LACYP had a special educational need compared with 14.9% of all children.
It isn’t just books that many disadvantaged, highly vulnerable and LACYP go without, but other school resources such as stationery items, numeracy materials and support for educational activity at home.
But help is at hand.
Boost your educational provision
Letterbox Club is an intervention programme that provides personalised educational resources to vulnerable children with the aim of building their confidence in reading and numeracy.
Run by BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, in partnership with the University of Leicester, Letterbox Club aims to inspire a love of reading and encourage learning at home for children who are looked after, previously looked after, on the edge of care and other vulnerable groups. It is suitable for children with a social worker.
Children are enrolled for Letterbox Club by schools and local authorities.
Parcels are delivered to the child on a monthly basis over a six-month period and are delivered despite placement moves and changes in their home learning environments.
Each child receives their own colourful parcel containing carefully selected books, maths activities, personalised stickers, stationery, hand written letters and other high-quality materials.
Letterbox Club provides eye-catching colour-coded parcels for the age groups 3-5, 5-7, 7-9, 9-11 and 11-13.
If a child is working at a lower or higher level, you can choose the parcel set that will suit them most – there is nothing inside the resources specifying an age or year group.
The parcels are delivered to participating local authorities or schools from May to October. This timeframe is strategic and ensures the parcels support children over the summer break and during the transition into a new school year.
Each child registered receives six separate parcels, with a total of up to 15 books, ten maths games and around 40 items of quality stationery, with the aim of encouraging children to engage more with reading, do more numeracy activities, and write and draw more frequently.
The most appropriate, best-written, illustrated and designed books are carefully selected by an independent panel of experts each year and include a range of different genres such as fairy tales, classic and contemporary stories, picture books, novelty/joke books, poetry, non-fiction and audio books.
The team seeks to provide books that will excite, knowing the value to vulnerable children of reading and re-reading books of their own that they enjoy, and provide opportunities for escapism and entering into imaginary worlds that are far removed from the realities of children’s everyday lives.
They also select inclusive titles that are ‘windows’, so LACYP can understand other lives, and books that are ‘mirrors’, to help them understand themselves.
The chosen books are perfect for reading and sharing together, stimulating a dialogue between vulnerable children and their carers/parents. They also help families do more together, build better relationships and improve attachments.
Also included in children’s monthly parcel are some exciting stationery items for encouraging writing and drawing, along with maths games rich with opportunities to practise number and money skills, with all maths resources such as dice, token coins and counters included.
Remember how you felt last time you received a surprise package in the post. For many children, receiving their Letterbox Club goodies is the first time they have had a letter or a parcel through the post and for some it’s the first time they have had books of their own.
Receiving Letterbox Club parcels makes a considerable impact on children’s social and emotional development. They feel validated, which leads to improvements in pro-social behaviour and self-esteem.
It makes them feel special, important and valued, gives them identity and status in the world and leads to greater engagement in learning.
Priced at £145 per child, local authorities and schools can use Pupil Premium Plus for children who are looked-after and Pupil Premium for other vulnerable children. The approximate RRP of the six parcels is over £200, so it’s money well spent.
This wonderful initiative supports the interaction of ownership, identity and pleasure by fueling learning confidence, self-development and wellbeing in educationally vulnerable groups of learners.
It is a powerful way to increase reading and maths enjoyment, frequency, skill and children’s agency as independent learners.
Regular reading outside of school is widely accepted as crucial to children’s educational achievement and personal growth as it augments a myriad of literacy skills including lexical growth, reading fluency and gaining knowledge of different reading strategies to suit particular purposes.
More practice in reading also leads to improvements in children’s writing abilities as they internalise essential skills of spelling, syntax and punctuation and absorb the conventions of expression, narrative and story structure.
Supporting every family
Letterbox Club is simple to administer and low-cost.
It has been very well received by thousands of children and carers across the UK and is now established as a national programme that improves achievement in reading and numeracy of children aged three to 13 in public care.
It provides an effective means of supporting families.
It is a unique and valuable supplement to developing confidence in reading and maths. It has significantly influenced a range of stakeholders, including children, foster families and children’s services.
It is an increasingly known fact that the emotional and social wellbeing of children and young adults is inextricably linked to their ability to learn.
If a child is taken into care during early years this can mean that language and literacy skills are underdeveloped.
Such children are more likely to have missed out on opportunities for regular reading development at home with a parent.
This is why reading and numeracy through Letterbox Club is so important for LAYCP because it is the gateway for learning and something that can be done together with carers and families.
It encourages shared experience, challenges isolation and is crucially important in improving life chances.
Children in the looked-after system often miss out on personally addressed post such as birthday cards, presents and comic subscriptions so Letterbox Club really means something to them.
Not only are they personal, they provide LAYCP with that all-important continuity when moving from A to B.
With so many children in the care system or on the edge of the care system, Letterbox Club has a lot to offer and acts as a learning lifeline.
Find out more about Letterbox Club here.