Category archives: early years

Friday, 23 February 2018

Language and literacy news and articles

mso64805There have been lots of useful articles and reports about children’s language and literacy development and ways to support them published in the last couple of months. Here’s a round-up.

Important new research shows that engaging young children in conversation is more valuable for brain development than ‘dumping words’ on them.

An analysis has recently been published exploring whether screens help or hinder language development in the early years.

We know that children’s language and literacy is immensely enhanced by being read to, so it is sad to see that only half of pre-school children are being read to every day.

Reading aloud is of course not just important for young children. ‘Encouraging a love of reading in a culture of assessment’ by parent Brian Gesko is moving and valuable.

Disturbing National Literacy Trust research highlights a huge gap in life expectancy between children in areas of good and poor literacy.

Do read ‘The best way to start closing the attainment gap between poor kids and their peers? Reading, reading, reading’ by head teacher Colin Harris.

It’s also well worth looking at this article showing how literacy skills have significantly improved as a result of the reading for pleasure scheme in Renfrewshire primary schools.

Primary English lead Rachel Lopiccolo suggests five ways to boost reading for pleasure in primary schools.

There are valuable ideas in ‘Why every class needs read alouds’. I love this: ‘The read aloud is like the Swiss Army knife of literacy; it has multiple uses at every age and in every content area.’

The ever-useful Scottish Book Trust lists some creative ways to get primary children to respond to books.

‘Fascinating rhythm’ is interesting on the value of rhythm for dyslexic and other children for phonemic awareness, reading fluency and wider learning, and ways to embed it.

A new report that tells us secondary school students are reading well below their reading level has received considerable press coverage, for instance this Guardian piece. It’s important to note however that this research is based solely on data from the Accelerated Reader project, and many have questioned its accuracy as a national picture.

‘Don’t knock kids for rereading books. Encourage them to read, full stop’ is a thoughtful response to the report and its reception by the director of the English and Media Centre.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The benefits of rhymes and rhyme times

ORd6FI loved attending this very popular library rhyme time in Enfield some time ago.

Head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman recently said ‘Children who can sing a song and know a story off by heart aged four are better  prepared for school. Nursery rhymes provide a collective experience – and teach a little bit of social history to boot.’

I too am a big fan of rhymes, and of rhyme times, and with several courses on effective rhyme times this term and next, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to their benefits for children’s language and literacy development and more widely. I gave a synopsis in a previous blog. Here are some expert views.

‘Becoming aware of rhyming sounds boosts brain activity.’ Alice Sterling Honig

‘Research has shown a clear connection between the awareness of rhyme in toddlers and the development of reading skills. It is a better indicator even than the child’s IQ.’ D P Bryant

‘The better children are at detecting rhymes the quicker and more successful they will be at learning to read.’ L Bradley

‘The children best equipped to tackle serious books later on are the ones with a good grounding in the “nonsense” of nursery rhymes.’ Ann Henderson

And of course rhyme times benefit not just children. A fabulous example of family learning, they boost parents’ and carers’ skills and confidence. They change attitudes. They foster family bonding. They help combat isolation and build social cohesion. Importantly too, they create new, hopefully long-term, visitors for the libraries, museums and other settings that deliver them.

It is well worth looking at The Arts Council and ASCEL ‘Rhyme Time and Seven Quality Principles Toolkit’.

To end, a parent’s view, posted recently on Twitter: ‘First-ever Rhyme Time today and we all loved it!’

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Literacy and language news and articles

Carrickmacross Library This is the children’s area in Carrickmacross Library in Monaghan County, the lovely venue for a course on reading for pleasure that I gave this week – a fitting illustration for my latest round-up of language and literacy news.

A call has been made for early language development to be prioritised as a well-being indicator to try to bridge the big gap in early language development between children in low-income and better-off households, which gets worse with age, and has major consequences.

A new study indicates that babies as young as six months old may realise certain words are related, and that interaction with adults boosts understanding.

Watching television or playing with smart phone apps does not have any effect on children’s language development, providing they still spend time reading, researchers have found.

Justine Greening has unveiled a new network to boost early literacy.

The gap in reading and writing scores between poorer children and their more advantaged classmates has widened slightly at age 7.

Oral language is key to reading, says literacy expert Dr Jessie Ricketts, but the subject is sorely neglected in schools, and pupils could be missing out on progression as a result.

The Department for Education’s promotion of synthetic phonics can be damaging to early readers and is seriously flawed, according to Dr Andrew Davis of the University of Durham’s school of education.

Research by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies shows that reading improves teenagers’ vocabulary, whatever their background. The lead author says: “The link between reading for pleasure and better vocabularies suggests that if young people are encouraged to discover a love for books, it could alter the course of their lives, regardless of their background.”

The new HMCI, Amanda Spielman, has expressed concerns about the curriculum narrowing both at primary and secondary level. Here is some of what she says in relation to KS2 SATs preparation and reading: “Testing in school clearly has value. This kind of test is intended to measure the child’s ability to comprehend. However, the regular taking of test papers does little to increase a child’s ability to comprehend. A much better use of time is to teach and help children to read and read more. Additionally, the books that teachers read to children need to be more challenging than those the children are picking up themselves.”

Sarah Hubbard, Her Majesty’s Inspector, and National Lead for English, has written about the English curriculum.

‘Ideas for encouraging peer recommendations in the classroom’ by primary teacher Jon Biddle has lots of great strategies for creating a buzz about reading.

A scheme in Blackpool is helping more fathers read with their children every day. This video makes lovely viewing.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Family learning takes many forms – a photographic overview

A little while ago I blogged about the importance of family learning and gave some links to sources of information. This time, I thought I would share a few of the photos I showed on a recent course on the topic for an inspiring group of community development workers, children’s centre staff and library staff. They give an indication of the many forms good family learning can take.Golders Green rhyme time 2Rhyme times are fabulous in terms of fun, and for developing social and emotional skills and language. This is a great one run by Barnet Libraries.Family Drop-in 003Enjoyable activities like this drop-in event at Orleans House Gallery support family bonding and give ideas for things to do at home.Bedtime reading event - 3There’s nothing to beat story times for building a love of books and reading. Lots of engagement in this Bromley Libraries bedtime story hour.Marlborough session 3 -2Everyone enjoys creative activites, and they support social and artistic skills. I was very lucky to be part of Historic Royal Palaces’ Curious Stories project.DSCN0274I loved contributing to this Barnet Libraries project. Lots of fun, and everyone got a real sense of achievement, an important aspect of family learning.Fitz & Museum of Classical Archaeology 1For family learning to work it must be enjoyable. This is a wonderful collaboration between the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Fitzwilliam Museum.cardiff storyResearch shows that family learning supports well-being. You can see how it happens in these photos from a Cardiff Story event.Liverpool & Enfield 2Family learning is inclusive and intergenerational. Don’t forget grandparents! These photos were taken at events in Liverpool and Enfield libraries.prehistoric animalLots of good family learning is very informal, as in this event at Crealy Adventure Park mounted by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.Oak20Lastly, a reminder that play is an important part of family learning activities. Here is an Enfield Libary Service toddler time.

Family learning is transformative. For anyone interested in finding out more about its benefits and ways to support it effectively, there are still places available on two courses I’m giving later this term: Sheffield on 23 March and Cardiff on 28 March. I also deliver bespoke in-service family learning training for local authorities, schools, museums, and other organisations.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Rhymes and rhyme times and their value

golders-green-rhyme-time-1I have lots of training coming up on supporting reading in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and on working with babies and under fives in museums. Preparing them has got me thinking again about how important rhymes and rhyme times are. Then just today, I had a request for a rhyme time course.

There’s no question that young children love rhyme times, and that parents and carers value them greatly. The photo here of a wonderful session I attended in a Barnet library demonstrates just how special they are. There is also no question about the support they give for children’s well-being, their learning and their overall development. Research and anecdotal evidence show that they benefit:

•    social skills
•    self-esteem and confidence
•    attention and concentration
•    memory
•    imagination
•    physical coordination and motor skills
•    cognitive development
•    understanding of the world
•    numeracy
•    communication skills
•    speaking and listening skills
•    literacy
•    phonological awareness
•    vocabulary
•    comprehension

Quite a list! You might also be interested to read a recent article on the value of music and rhyme for children’s literacy development and another one on how using stories, songs and rhymes can support mental health.