Category archives: early years

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.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

10 day picture book challenge

picbks

I felt very honoured to be nominated to take part in the on–going ten day picture book challenge on Twitter. Thank you Sue McGonigle. It was incredibly hard to choose just ten books out the hundreds that I love. And formidably difficult to sum them up in only three words, a key aspect of the challenge. These are the glorious books that I eventually picked, and my descriptions of them (which I discovered are somewhat repetitive only as I put this together).

Day 1. The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton. Tate Publishing, 2018.
Nature – Optimism –  Community
Day 2. Tilly’s At Home Holiday by Gill Hibbs. Childs Play, 2014.
Affirmative – Inclusive – Hopeful
Day 3. You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. Puffin, 2018. First published 2003.)
Interactive – Inclusive – Irresistible
Day 4. Through the Eyes of Me by Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding. Graffeg, 2017.
Joyful – Affirmative – Autism
Day 5. 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling. Frances Lincoln, 2015.
Funny – Subversive – Touching
Day 6. The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Orchard Books, 2013.
Beautiful – Sensitive – Reassuring
Day 7. Dog on a Train by Kate Prendergast. Old Barn Books, 2015.
Sensitive – Beautiful – Wordless
Day 8. Ernest by Catherine Rayner. Macmillan, 2019. (Originally published 2009.)
Very – Determined – Moose
Day 9. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen. Hodder, 2019. (Originally published 1989.)
Balloon – Magic – Powers
Day 10. Mr Big by Ed Vere. Penguin Random House, 2008.
Loneliness – Music – Friendship

For those with access to Twitter, Jo Bowers has been collating contributors’ choices. Together they make a stunning roll-call of some of the very best picture books around. Every time I look I get delightful reminders of favourite titles, authors and illustrators, and inspiration for future book delving.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

What remote story times have taught me

remote story books

There is nothing to beat the delights of sharing books with a child or children right there with you. I blogged recently about the multiple benefits of reading aloud. Sadly, in these days of lockdown, for the moment many of us are having to resort to remote story times. I certainly miss the physical connection, but I’ve also realised that doing storytelling via video link has been a valuable learning opportunity for me. I’ve been observing what works well, and what less so, and I’m sure this will inform my post-lockdown practice.

It’s been fascinating to find out what sorts of book best suit remote book sharing. (Anyone sharing books on a public platform, do make sure to check out copyright issues through the publishers’ websites.) The photo shows some that I’ve found to go down particularly well with a toddler audience. A good many tried and tested old favourites here, as well as several delightful newer titles. All the books are engaging and visually attractive. All offer lots to discuss. Several have flaps. Video storytelling has served as a useful reminder to me that the more we build anticipation the more we increase involvement and pleasure. Flap books work so well because of the excitement we can develop in advance of the big reveal. But novelty-free books also provide plenty of potential for enjoyable speculation about what’s going to happen next.

It is perhaps an obvious point, but it’s certainly worth remembering that clarity of illustration is crucial. Any illustration that is difficult to understand will be even harder for a child to grasp when it can only be seen on a device. I’ve discovered that it’s vital to hold each page up close to the camera, and to give enough time for it to be taken in . At times it’s helpful to bring particular details into focus.

What else makes a difference? Whole-hearted involvement from a parent or carer at the receiving end has a massive positive impact in terms of children’s focus and fun. Props propsat either end can provide extra stimulation and aid comprehension, soft toy animals, for example. Again, we need to position them carefully so they can be seen easily at the other end. I haven’t tried dressing up, but I’m sure it would be a big hit. In the absence of physical nearness, body language takes on particular importance. I’ve realised the value of using lots of expression. Different voices for different characters greatly bolster enjoyment, engagement and understanding. Rhymes that tie in with the books we are sharing help break things up and provide opportunities for movement and interaction. If I’ve just shared a book with transport in it, we might do ‘the wheels on the bus’, for instance. ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’, perhaps with a torch to provide added twinkle, is great before or after any book featuring starry skies.

One of the keys to success, as with all book sharing, is that we love what we are reading. Our enthusiasm transmits. Keying into our audience’s personal interests and passions, whatever they may be, is also very worthwhile, as is including some of their favourite books in each session. Young children love repetition and need it for learning. I have rediscovered that when using a book children have not come across before, I usually need to read it at least twice before moving on to to something else. If the child or children have copies at their end of the books we read, that offers something extra. They can have the physical pleasure and interactivity of turning the pages at the same time as enjoying listening, sometimes looking up at the book and the reader on screen. Even very young children seem to adapt easily to this different way to sharing.

There’s something else I’ve learnt, or rather re-learnt. It’s far better to keep story times short and sweet than to keep going if a child has lost interest. Everyone’s attention spans are limited right now.

I can’t wait to get back to the particular pleasures of reading up close, but in the meantime video story times are very special.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Reading aloud – the benefits and importance of reading to children

me reading

I treasure this picture. It came in a thank you letter sent to me by a child in year 1 after I’d read with his class. (He wisely decided to depict just five of the thirty children.) I love it that the book I was reading was clearly so exciting that it made me levitate!

I’ve very much enjoyed giving courses for early years practitioners, family learning workers and library staff recently on effective reading aloud. What a joy to explore the importance of reading with children and to identify ways to make the experience as enjoyable and engaging as possible.

Jim Trelease, in his seminal work The Read-Aloud Handbook, says ‘People would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does.’ Why? What are the benefits of reading to and with children? These are some very cogent ones:

  • enjoyment – here’s Trelease again: ‘Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain’, and what better reason for reading aloud could there be, plus we know that it’s the children who love books who become the ones who read the most, with knock-on effects for all their learning, and for their wellbeing.
  • speech and language development – children who are read to gain a feel for language and skills that aid their spoken communication.
  • vocabulary – great again in terms of oracy, and for literacy: the size of a child’s vocabulary in the early years, in particular their knowledge of unusual words, i.e. the types of words that are found in books but not often used in everyday language, is a good predictor of their reading ability at ten.
  • literacy skills and confidence – if children have been read to they understand how written language works, so much so that an American Academy of Pediatrics report says ‘Reading to babies and children helps immunise them against illiteracy.’
  • prediction skills – the books that we read with children often have pattern and predictability, and being able to work out what might happen next stands children in good stead when they are in the early stages of learning to read.
  • comprehension – the ability to understand is at least if not more important than the ability to decode, and being read to and having discussions about the text greatly improve comprehension skills.
  • wider learning – we know for example that children who have been read to tend to be better at maths, presumably because so many of the books we share in the early years have mathematical concepts such as size, shape, number.
  • knowledge of the wider world – there are so many things in books that children will never encounter in normal life.
  • imagination and creativity – early years practitioners tell me that they know which children have books shared with them at home because it shows in their artwork, in their play and in what they talk about.
  • brain development – in the words of children’s author and literacy expert Mem Fox ‘Reading aloud and talking about what we’re reading sharpens children’s brains.’
  • social and emotional development – the books we read with children help them understand themselves and others, building empathy, resilience and wellbeing.
  • concentration and listening skills – read books with children and you can almost see their attention spans grow.

Let me finish with Dr Seuss: ‘You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.’