Category archives: early years

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Children’s reading news, research, resources

A shelves

It’s a long time since my last blog on news from the world of children’s reading. These are some things that have particularly caught my attention.

Research by the World Book Day charity, which brings together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities, shows that children and parents embraced reading at the start of the pandemic, with major benefits in terms of wellbeing and development, although one year on reading has decreased slightly. Parents read more with children during lockdown and encouraged children to read more too. ‘Whilst engaging children with their online lessons often became a battleground for families, parents who read aloud to their children every day noticed an improvement in wellbeing, behaviour, family bonds and attainment with schoolwork (even when home educating).’ Young people said reading helped them relax and made them feel happy. Over 80% of teachers said they found ways of reading aloud to their classes during the pandemic because it provided an emotional support as well as developing literacy skills. A much less positive finding was that access to books remains a serious issue, particularly amongst disadvantaged children and families.

The headlines about the latest Childwise survey focused on the finding that 25% of children never read for pleasure. A different, and equally valid take is that 75% do. Reading for pleasure peaks at ages 9-10 apparently.

A report by the Education Endowment Foundation found that disadvantaged primary school pupils are seven months behind their peers in reading, although it urged caution over the findings.

Leading organisations and individuals in the fields of literacy, education and the arts have joined CLPE and Fair Education Alliance in a call for long term, sustained funding for rich literacy provision. ‘Catch up’ should not be limited to functional skills, they stress.

The National Literacy Trust report Seeing yourself in what you read: diversity and children and young people’s reading in 2020 found that nearly a third of 9-18 year-olds don’t see themselves in what they read, with a higher proportion among those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Almost 40% would like more books with characters like them. More children and young people who receive free school meals than those who don’t say that they don’t see themselves in what they read. The issue of representation was particularly salient for children and young people who describe their gender not as a boy or girl.

Early learning and child well-being : a study of five-year-olds in England, Estonia, and the United States contains lots relating to literacy including:

  • Emergent literacy correlates positively with emergent numeracy and also self-regulation skills, empathy and social behaviour.
  • Emergent literacy impacts on later school achievement.
  • In the early years, the most important components of emergent literacy are listening comprehension, vocabulary and phonological awareness.
  • What parents do is pivotal for their children’s development.
  • Girls do better in emergent literacy.
  • Children in England from families with a migrant background had lower emergent literacy scores than those from non-immigrant backgrounds, even after adjusting for socio-economic status and home language.
  • Children with learning difficulties and children with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties had lower mean scores in both emergent literacy than children without these difficulties, after accounting for SES.
  • The use of digital devices had little overall significant associations with children’s emergent literacy.

If you missed it at the time, my blog reflecting on a recent study on improving mathematics in early years and KS1 explores the value of using books to support teaching and learning across the curriculum.

Turn on the Subtitles is well worth a look. The research into the value of subtitles is compelling.

Finally, some recommendations for anyone interested in reading for pleasure:

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

The value of picture and story books for developing mathematical understanding and progress in the early years and key stage 1

IMG_5680These much-loved picture books first and foremost deliver joy of reading. And they do very much more besides, not least helping young children absorb concepts, including mathematical ones. They are just two out of hundreds of books I could have chosen that make notions like number, shape and size interesting, engaging, relatable and understandable.

This aspect of numerous picture and story books is surely the reason why study after study links books with mathematical progress. Decades ago Research into Bookstart, the book-gifting scheme, showed that when the first cohort of Bookstart children reached school age they were outperforming their peers, not only in language-based subjects, but also in mathematics, and that they stayed ahead as they got older. (We also know that reading for pleasure continues to aid mathematical progress in key stages 3 and 4.)

Late last year the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) produced a report on improving mathematics in early years and key stage 1. This is not something I would normally blog about, but it caught my eye because of its finding on the value and importance of using books to support mathematical teaching and learning: ‘The use of storybooks in mathematical teaching can have a large impact on young children’s attainment in this subject.’

Specific guidance includes this: ‘Mathematics can be explored through different contexts, including books, puzzles, songs, rhymes, puppet play and games. Using storybooks to teach mathematics can be particularly effective, through providing an opportunity for mathematical talk and questioning. Much of this evidence comes from studies where practitioners were explicitly supported in promoting mathematical discussion from the story, for example, by being provided with notecards displaying prompting questions and discussion points that they could use. Practitioners should therefore plan how they will use storybook resources to discuss mathematical concepts.’

The guidance document contains valuable ideas for developing mathematical talk using picture books. I was very pleased to find out about Maths through Stories, an extremely useful website which was new to me.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #3

Tower Hamlets class visitMany thanks to Tower Hamlets Idea Store and Libraries for this lovely photo. The perfect illustration for the final blog in my series on communication and literacy with children with EAL, this one looking at stories, books and reading.

I want to start with story-telling and reading aloud, because their impact is so enormous. Please tell stories and read aloud as often as possible – one-to-one, with small groups and to the whole class. A brief explanation before sharing a book the first time will help children with EAL, and others too, so they have an idea of the context and of key vocabulary. The biggest focus though should be on making story and reading times special. Use lots of oral and facial expression, big body movements and different voices. Repeat books and stories as many times as the children want. They learn so much from repetition, and love it. Provide opportunities for children to join in. Use puppets and props. Leave the books and the props around for children to play with afterwards. Create activities that tie in with stories and books, not least artwork, role play and re-enacting books. All these strategies send strong messages that stories and books are fun. And all hugely aid vocabulary, comprehension and literacy skills.

As much as possible, share books and stories in children’s home languages, calling on the prowess of staff and parents and carers. They can record themselves at home if they feel unable or nervous to perform live.

Make sure there are literacy opportunities everywhere and all the time. Reading, mark-making and writing are mutually supportive. Book-making, including in children’s home languages and dual languages, scribing children’s words where necessary, is great for developing literacy skills.

It’s well worthwhile to embed books and reading and writing routinely and imaginatively in everyday activities and topic work. There are lots of literacy opportunities to be found with cooking and construction for example.

What sort of books help when sharing with children with EAL, and for them to read for themselves? Actually, the same range as for everyone. Every setting should have a good range of culturally appropriate books that authentically represent children’s experiences. All children need and deserve books in which they can find children like themselves. All need and deserve books that provide opportunities to learn about how other people live. (For more on this topic, see the article I wrote for the English Association ‘Using inclusive books in the early years and key stage 1 – why, what and how?’) We should scrupulously avoid and get rid of books that reinforce stereotypes. What else? Books with clear illustrations help understanding and provide respite from the hard work of reading. Wordless books enable children to formulate thoughts in their home languages and to behave as readers. Dual language books are extremely valuable. Books with rhyme, rhythm and repetition build enjoyment, involvement and skills. Books with predictable story patterns make reading easier.

Please make sure to have cosy and attractive reading areas. Children with EAL – indeed all children – will be more inclined towards books and reading if they feel comfortable and safe.

And what about when children with EAL start to read? A big focus on phonics, needless to say, is utterly crucial. Don’t forget that depending on what their home language is, children with EAL may have to learn new sounds and sound groupings, a new script or alphabet, new sound-symbol relationships. Remember too all the new grammatical structures and the huge amounts of new vocabulary they are coming to grips with. Pre-teaching vocabulary makes a big difference. And of course, lots of support, positive feedback and praise for language and literacy progress, so that children with EAL experience success, something everyone needs.

In fact, the more I reflect on what is good literacy practice for children with EAL, the more I realise that it is good literacy practice for every child.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #2

ORd5#This photo is of an inspiring Enfield Libraries early years session I was lucky enough to attend. Most of the participants had English as an additional language.

In this second blog in a series on developing language and literacy skills with children with EAL in the EYFS I am going to concentrate on effective ways to support spoken English. Unless children have a good grasp of this, all aspects of communication and literacy will be a struggle.

Nurturing children’s home languages is crucial for aiding English language acquisition. I explored its importance, and methods that help, in my previous blog. Below I discuss the benefits of songs and rhymes, and next time I will talk about sharing stories and books. While I’m still on the topic of support for home languages, let me stress the benefits of bilingual story-times and rhyme sessions, involving practitioners and, if possible, parents and carers. Any who are daunted about performing live could record their contributions at home. Children with EAL will gain enormously from this valuing of their home language, and exposure to a range of languages and scripts is to everyone’s advantage.

Most children go through a silent phase when first learning a new language, sometimes lasting months. Despite not speaking, they gradually understand more and more. There are many ways to build their confidence and expertise. They need thinking time to process what they hear. They need interaction with English-speaking children. They need support, including visual support such as photos, illustrations, artefacts and visual timetables. They need encouragement. Value children’s non-verbal responses, their responses in their home language, and of course their utterances in English, as they begin to speak it.

Learning English as an additional language is hard work and very tiring, so give children with EAL time out from English and provide opportunities for them to express themselves in their home language some of the time.

Make sure there is always plenty of talk, even when there is no verbal response. Provide a running commentary as children play. (It’s worth knowing that children with EAL may speak more in outdoor play. In fact this applies to most children.) As children start to speak in English, build on their utterances, modelling English language use. If a child says ‘I goed home’ the practitioner might say ‘you went home and then ….’. Make open comments and ask open questions. Closed questions like ‘what’s this called?’ don’t develop language skills.

What else? Children with EAL need active teaching of vocabulary. They need to know survival words like yes, no, toilet, hello. They need language used in meaningful contexts. They need attention drawn to letters and sounds.

Songs and rhymes are excellent for developing language, and help lay the foundations for reading. They build speaking and listening skills, phonological awareness, vocabulary and comprehension. Lots of songs and rhymes have repeated words and phrases, and this, combined with a compelling rhythm, help make language stick. Aid children’s enjoyment and understanding with action rhymes and props and puppets. As I mentioned earlier, there’s great value to rhymes in children’s home languages. I find Mamalisa a good source.

Stories, books and reading aloud are far too important to cover in a couple of paragraphs, which is why I’m going to devote my next blog to them.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #1

Pol17I took this lovely photo at a meeting of a Polish under 5s group in Enfield. It was a snowy day, hence the snowman book. As well as books, there were songs, rhymes, discussion and activities in a seamless meld of Polish and English. The children – far more than just the four here – were enthralled. So were the adults.

I was delighted to give a webinar for Liverpool early years practitioners last week on current thinking and advice relating to children with English as an additional language (EAL), and inclusive strategies and resources for developing communication and reading. In this first of a series of blogs I’m concentrating on the benefits of bilingualism, the importance of supporting children’s home languages, what children have to learn to become proficient in a new language, and official guidance on supporting children with EAL in the early years.

For many years now it has been recognised that bilingualism is an asset and should be valued as a positive skill. Bilingualism not only aids the learning of English and other languages. More broadly it develops concentration, cognition and memory as well as empathy, self-confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.

We know it is vital to support children’s home languages at home and in settings. The EYFS Statutory Framework and the EYFS Reforms Early Adopter Framework contain identical guidance: ‘Providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home.’

‘Children will learn English from a strong foundation in their home language’ in the words of the new Development Matters. Both the original Development Matters and the new version are adamant about the importance of encouraging families to use their home language.

‘Talk to parents about what language they speak at home, try and learn a few key words and celebrate multilingualism in your setting’ says the  new document. It is worth unpicking and adding to this sentence. It’s crucial to spend time with parents and carers finding out about children’s abilities and experiences in their home languages. Crucial too to ensure children can hear and use their home languages in settings. Bilingual staff should be valued and involved. Children with the same home language should be enabled to play and talk together.

It’s invaluable to learn a few key words in children’s home languages: hello, goodbye, toilet for instance. Everyone should respect children’s home languages. How important it is to pronounce children’s names correctly.

None of these are new ideas and recommendations. They are all emphasised in the original Development Matters too.

In terms of celebrating multilingualism, the environment should visibly reflect and value cultural and linguistic diversity. This is often taken to mean settings should have lots of notices in a range of languages and scripts, but inclusive play equipment, displays and books send out stronger messages to young children.

As the following list makes clear, there are many things children with EAL may have to contend with in order to learn a new language. (This comes from a valuable overview and checklist by my Early Education colleague Julie Cigman.)

  • a new set of sounds and sound groupings
  • new intonation patterns
  • a new script or alphabet
  • a new set of sound-symbol relationships
  • new vocabulary
  • new grammar
  • new non-verbal signals
  • new rules about social conventions and language
  • an ability to relate to people and express feelings and emotions in a new language

It’s important to make no assumptions. All children learn differently and the rate of language acquisition is very variable. Understanding is likely to be well in advance of spoken language for most children learning English as an additional language. Many go through a silent phase, and for some this may last months. It’s crucial not to pressurise children to talk before they are ready to.

I will blog soon about more ways to support spoken English, vital for all aspects of communication and literacy, as well as self-confidence and wellbeing.