Category archives: early years

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.’

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Recent research and articles about children’s reading

book boat - St Andrews CE Primary Kettering

Many thanks to St Andrews CE Primary Kettering for permission to use this photo of their lovely book boats. Such a great idea, and perfect to illustrate my latest round-up of children’s reading news and articles.

Dawn Finch has written a valuable piece on the meaning and importance of reading for pleasure and ways to nurture it in libraries and schools.

Teacher Heather Wright suggest five ways to instil a love of reading in primary schools.

In another article she posits that reading for pleasure should be at the heart of the curriculum, and that quality books are a must, not a luxury.

‘Reading Corners: Effective?’ explores the value of reading corners in the context of creating a culture of reading.

A new study finds that a home environment that supports language development in early childhood predicts children’s readiness to learn in pre-school, which in turn predicts academic skills at 10-11.

Research suggests that language development in infancy is influenced differently by well-educated mothers and fathers, even though they read to their young toddlers in broadly similar ways.

‘Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers’, an article from the USA, suggests that much depends on how parents present the activity of reading to their children.

Recent research shows that targeted reading interventions in small groups can help to close the disadvantage gap for primary pupils, while whole-class approaches had little impact.

‘Children’s Reading With Digital Books: Past Moving Quickly to the Future’ is a useful survey of research on the topic, with suggestions for good practice.

An Australian article explores ways to get the most out of silent reading in schools.

The latest ‘Reflecting Realities’ survey into ethnic representation in UK children’s literature has been released, and it paints a depressing picture.

Jennifer Holder of Liverpool Learning Partnership has put together a useful padlet to support educators in exploring issues of diversity and inclusion in children’s and YA books.

Mat Tobin has produced some great tips on building a diverse and multicultural bookshelf and on becoming a ‘culturally responsive teacher’.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Reading in the early years – links to useful websites, reports and books

you choose 1##I’m giving lots of courses on creating a love of books and reading in the early years at the moment. It’s one of my favourite training topics, and a crucial one. I will blog soon about why it is so important. Meanwhile, I thought it might be useful to share links to websites, research and books that I find particularly valuable. Many of these are relevant across the board, while some are particularly applicable to early years practitioners and teachers, some to librarians, some to parents and carers.

And what better way to illustrate the list than this fabulous photo of a 20 month-old, sent to me by a course participant last week.

Book Finder
Bookbug
Books for Keeps
Bookstart
Core Books Online
Developing Early Literacy 0-8: From Theory to Practice, ed Virginia Bower, Sage, 2014, ISBN 9781446255339
Digital Technology and the Early Years, National Literacy Trust, 2017
Early Literacy Practices at Home, National Literacy Trust, 2016
Federation of Children’s Books Groups
Foundations of Literacy, by Sue Palmer, Featherstone Education, 2013, ISBN 9781408193846
Healthy Books
Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start, ed Carolynn Rankin and Avril Brock, Facet Publishing, 2015, ISBN 9781783300082
Love My Books
Love Reading 4 Kids
Preparing for Literacy, Education Endowment Foundation, 2018
Read On Get On
Reading Zone
Rhyme Time and Seven Quality Principles Toolkit
Road to Reading, by Jillian Harker, Early Education, 2011
Universally Speaking – Ages and Stages of Children’s Communication Development for Children Aged Birth to 5, The Communication Trust, 2013
Words for Life