COVID-19, literacy and wellbeing

Wellbeing - girls writing

National Literacy Trust research on COVID-19, literacy and wellbeing

  • Our research carried out before the pandemic found that children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged (Clark and Teravainen-Goff, 2018).
  • A strong theme emerging from our research into literacy during the first lockdown was the extent to which reading, writing and listening to audiobooks supported children’s mental wellbeing (see Clark and Picton, 2020; Clark et al., 2020; Best et al., 2020).
  • For example, 3 in 5 (59%) children and young people agreed that reading made them feel better, 2 in 5 (41%) believed that writing made them feel better and 3 in 10 (32%) said listening to audiobooks made them feel better during lockdown.
  • Along with providing a source of calm, escapism and relaxation for children during lockdown, reading enabled children to dream about the future, with half (50.2%) saying that reading encouraged them to do this. However, comments also suggested that for some children and young people, anxiety precluded reading.
  • Writing creatively during lockdown helped to support children’s mental wellbeing. Those who said writing makes them feel better were 5 times more likely to write poems (66.5% vs. 13.4%) and 4 times more likely to write in a diary or journal (61.9% vs. 14.8%) or to write a short story or fiction (61.1% vs. 15.1%, Clark et al., 2020). However, while many children’s comments indicated that creative writing could help them deal with difficult emotional states, as with reading, some felt less able to engage with writing due to feelings related to the lockdown.
  • Many children and young people highlighted the benefits of audiobooks as a form of relaxation in their comments, sharing how listening to audiobooks had (like reading) been a welcome source of distraction from outside events, and had helped them to get to sleep at night (Best et al., 2020).
  • Research carried out in early 2021, during the third period of national lockdown, found that writing continued to support children and young people’s mental wellbeing, with 2 in 5 (38.3%) children and young people agreeing that writing makes them feel better (Clark et al., 2021).
  • 3 in 10 said that they write because it helps them relax, and nearly 1 in 4 (23.0%) said they write because it makes them feel happy or feel more confident. Comments further suggested that writing helped some children with anxiety or sadness, helping them to express themselves and to feel calmer.
  • In June 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) published information and signposting to programmes, resources and activities to support education recovery and young people’s wellbeing in England relevant to those working in early years, primary and secondary settings and providers of 16-19 education (DfE, 2021).
  • In July 2021, the Department for Education published non-statutory guidance on Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery. It is designed to help schools decide how to prioritise elements within their curriculum, including case studies illustrating best practice. It notes that: "Schools will want to consider adjusting the curriculum to prioritise topics that will best support pupils to re-engage with their peers in school. These include ...mental wellbeing, physical health and fitness, respectful relationships and being safe."
  • One case study describes how one subject lead introduced lessons with a particular focus on friendship and building relationships, and also taught self-management strategies and tolerance. It further noted that the decision to prioritise pupils’ mental health and wellbeing was informed partly by a short assessment of their knowledge and understanding of mental health.

Summary

Our earlier research found an association between literacy engagement and mental wellbeing, and this also came through as a strong theme in our research into reading, writing and listening during lockdown. Children and young people reported that reading, in particular, made them feel better, but a significant proportion also said this of writing and listening to audiobooks. Key reasons for this included the sense of calm, escapism and relaxation offered by literacy activities. For example, writing poetry and journaling were associated in particular with feeling better. During the third lockdown, many children's comments suggested that writing had helped them deal with anxiety and sadness.

As many schools prioritise pupils' wellbeing, it is worth remembering that reading, writing and listening have a key role to play not only in supporting children's educational outcomes, but their mental wellbeing. Building in time to allow children to read for enjoyment, to write creatively and to express themselves and to support engagement with audio formats can all hold benefits for children's ability to cope in difficult times.

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