Literacy during the lockdown: uneven benefits

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Read during the lockdown to maintain or develop literacy

Published April 30, 2020

Lockdown literacy | Solutions | Resources | Reading and perseverance: reminders


A child’s or youth’s reading habits during the lockdown are obviously dependant on their relationship with it prior to the health crisis.

We are speaking here of reading for pleasure or personal interest, and thus self-motivated. This is what defines a reader.

For readers, having more free time generally leads to more reading. In doing so, they may maintain or even increase their literacy skills and thereby continue to acquire knowledge in many areas while exercising cognitive abilities.

The current crisis has highlighted the sometimes significant differences among students when it comes to “reading for pleasure.”[1] Indeed, it has likely deepened them, and for so-called “unengaged readers” (i.e., those who for, various reasons, show little motivation to read including having difficulty at school or limited access to resources), the opposite is likely true, with the lockdown depriving them of the only place where they are required to read. One can therefore presume that they will read less than normally, if at all.

For such unengaged young readers, especially those in underprivileged neighbourhoods, we acknowledge the very real effects of the current situation, in which:

  • alternatives consisting of abundant online services (educational support, reading mediation activities) are more likely to come up against technological shortcomings (connection, equipment),
  • there are often few or no books in the home,
  • access to physical books and reading mediation activities—crucial for less engaged readers—is cut off because public libraries are closed.

While school closures will affect all young people, it will have specific repercussions on those who were having difficulties before the crisis. It is likely to:

  • accentuate their difficulties and widen gaps,
  • lead to a decline in reading skills and other academic skills,
  • reduce motivation,
  • increase the number of dropouts.


During the lockdown, daily reading or activities related to reading for pleasure, using digital technology, can help maintain learning by allowing these students to:

  • better maintain their literacy skills during the lockdown,
  • arouse their interest and curiosity, which also affect motivation at school,
  • develop bonds with peers around reading.

If virtual contacts with families and students are possible, it is simple and inexpensive to offer distance-learning activities aimed at highlighting the value of, promoting, and enlivening reading.

Here are several sound practices to consider:

  • Disassociate reading from all teaching or pedagogical references or expectations (evaluation, comparison, objectives, etc.).
  • Allow students the greatest possible choice, including that of not reading or abandoning a book that they do not like.
  • Encourage students to read in their mother tongue.
  • Encourage them to talk about their tastes and interests in order to better guide their choices and use of online resources.
  • Encourage them to talk about what they have read to their peers, which will help them better understand their own tastes and share their discoveries.
  • Propose a variety of texts or works adapted to their reading level in order to build confidence.
  • Allow them to meet writers, mentors, and reading role models.
  • Make connections between the types of artistic expression they enjoy and reading/writing.
  • Read to them or introduce them to audio books. 

Free online resources

To learn more about the links between reading and school perseverance:

Access to digital books:

Audio books:

Youth books and book-related activities (pre-school):

Multilingual albums (preschool and elementary, available in 11 languages, subtitles and audio):

Reading activities and suggestions for kids of all ages

Reading and school perseverance: reminders

Reading for pleasure is how you become a reader, i.e., that you read more than for just schoolwork, to explore your own interests and tastes. In other words, that you are self-motivated. Ideally, this develops in early childhood within a child’s various environments (family, daycare, school, community) and progresses throughout life. Research has shown that readers are higher achievers in their schooling.

Exposure to the written word from an early age is a reliable predictor of educational success.

Children who browse through books by themselves at the age of 2 ½:

  • Are more motivated to read when they start school
  • Have reading habits by the age of 8
  • Get better grades at the age of 15[2]

On the other hand, children who continue to have difficulty reading by the age of 7 are four times more likely to drop out at the age of 15.[3]

While school is necessary in developing reading skills, it cannot produce readers by itself. “Being a student, and thus in a permanent reading environment, does not automatically guarantee the development of reading habits or a love of reading, which only goes to show that reading without pleasure is doomed, in the medium- or long-term, to failure.”[4]

In truth, one’s relationship to the written word starts at birth, beginning in the family and then in the community throughout early childhood. Children then formalize this learning at school. 

The actions that model a child’s relationship with reading are taken before they start school. It is thus the family and community that determine a child’s interaction with reading and the development of reading habits between birth and age 5.

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[1] In Reading for Pleasure. CTREQ, 2017, p. 33.

[2] In La motivation en lecture durant l’enfance et le rendement dans la langue d’enseignement à 15 ans, Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development 1998–2015 (QLSCD), Institut de la Statistique du Québec, November 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Translated excerpt of Hélène Vachon, “La lecture.” Enquête sur les pratiques culturelles au Québec, 2009.