Lockdown start-up Total Words has launched a digital library of books and learning resources to encourage children to read more.
The specialist books, written by an educational psychologist and designed to be read at school or home, are about real-life topics, from blue whales to tsunamis.
Co-founder Kiri Mellalieu says: “We’re on a mission to create a nation of confident readers who are as passionate about books and learning as we are.
“Britain is in the grips of a literacy crisis thanks to lockdown – government figures reveal that an estimated 200,000 pupils will start secondary school this autumn  without being able to read.
“The solution is simple – children need to read more. Having a library of concise books available in digital form is ideal for both parents and schools.”
The Total Words philosophy is that knowledge shouldn’t be a privilege. “Classroom learning content can easily be shared at home, and technology reduces barriers to learning,” says Kiri.
Each book has a selection of learning activities that are free, accessed through the digital library at Totalwords.com. Activities include ‘find a word’ to ‘tell us your opinion’ help with reading and thinking skills.
“We’re bringing the best of positive learning and positive psychology into digital book design so that children can learn to read and think creatively about what they are reading,“ says Kiri.
The texts are concise, factual-based and include a unique word count feature, allowing children to track their own progress, challenge themselves and grow in confidence. “Children love being able to say exactly how many words they have read in a day. Motivated children read more.”
“We’re not just selling books – Total Words is a new approach to reading and a process of learning. It uses motivational word counts, small chunks of digestible, relatable text, the optimum amount of images that aren’t distracting, and a font called Report that is reader-friendly and screen-friendly for children.
“We’ve all had to learn from the pandemic,” says Kiri. “Two things that’s come out is that we need more accessible online reading resources, and we need resources that children can share at home and at school. Total Words marries cutting-edge technology with design-for-learning book features that help children get passionate about their reading and learning.”
How Total Words works:
- Create a free account on publishing app Flipsnack.com
- Buy and download your chosen book from Totalwords.com (prices start from £2.50)
- Go to your ‘Read’ folder on Flipsnack and start reading
“We believe that reading is more than just saying words,” explains Kiri. “Our specialist books are interesting, factual, support classroom topics, and are inspiring. Like all good books, they challenge the reader, prompting opinions, emotions and questions.”
One success story is Sarah, who in year 3 (aged six) couldn’t read or write. Thanks to the Total Words learning process, within 15 weeks she was reading 1000 words a day, and was a confident, motivated reader. “We never let her practice errors and the lovely thing was the reaction each day when her classmates heard how many words she had read.”
Kiri explains that Total Word texts also include highlighted words, so that children can learn and understand the meaning rather than just the sound.
“We’re not saying phonics isn’t important, but ours is a new approach to reading. Resources for effective learning can make a huge difference in encouraging children to read and technology can play a key part in addressing the literacy problem in the UK.”
“We’re pushing the idea that reading is access to knowledge – it’s social connection, it’s at the heart of everything.”
“Early intervention is key,” stresses Kiri. “If you don’t experience reading as being meaningful as a child, it’s easy to give up on it and lose interest in reading as you get older.”
“This can lead to serious disadvantages in adulthood and the stats speak for themselves – 16% of UK adults have skills at the lowest end of literacy and 30% of the workforce can’t read beyond primary school level. Meanwhile 50% of UK prisoners are illiterate.
“Poor reading skills cost the UK economy an estimated £81 billion a year due to lost wages. That’s where Total Words comes in – with affordable digital reading resources.”