Category archives: early years

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Equal Play: What does gender equality look like in childhood?

Equal Play 1The Mayor of London’s Equal Play conference was fascinating and important. (And how lovely to see children’s toys in the Council Chamber of City Hall!) These were some of the most significant take-aways for me:

  • children’s brains are not gendered by nature, and are malleable
  • gender stereotypes are pervasive and set in even before birth: expectant parents speak differently to babies in the womb according to gender
  • children are treated differently at home, in settings and in schools according to gender, both in terms of language used and what they are praised for
  • children are surrounded by messages about how they should be and these are overwhelmingly gendered
  • gender stereotypes are more pervasive now than they were a generation ago
  • ads targeted at girls use words like magic, princess, beautiful; those aimed at boys use words like power, battle, adventure
  • the collective impact of gendered marketing, language, attitudes, clothing, books, toys etc limits girls’ aspirations, confidence, self-image, career choices, earning potential
  • gender stereotypes limit boys too and fuel toxic masculinity
  • the UK is one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of the numbers of women in STEM careers
  • society needs both boys and girls to become tomorrow’s problem-solvers
  • encouraging girls into STEM subjects is critical for our future
  • play is a vital first part of this
  • inclusive toys, books and clothing enable children to see and explore a range of options
  • gender-neutral attitudes, language, and marketing can reduce the negative impact of stereotypes
  • manufacturers and advertisers need to adopt gender-neutral approaches
  • the Advertising Standards Agency is changing its rules to limit gender-stereotyped advertisements
  • campaigning by Let Toys Be Toys, Let Books be Books and others is making a difference
  • increasing numbers of manufacturers, publishers and retailers, including big names such as Boots and John Lewis are adopting less gendered approaches
  • London has a new Gender Action Award to encourage schools and pre-schools to put gender equality at the heart of all aspects of school life
  • there is a very long way to go
  • we all need to foreground gender equality in our professional lives

We heard from inspiring speakers throughout the day, not least Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society, Gina Rippon, Professor of Cognitive Imaging, Rosie Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the US, Olivia Dickinson of Let Toys Be Toys, Shaddai Tembo, founder of Critical Early Years. Who had the most galvanising impact? Without doubt the Science Leadership Team from Gillespie Primary School. These children made their resentment of gender-stereotyped products and marketing very clear. Why do all girl dolls have long hair? Why when they go into bookshops are the boys directed to science books and the girls to fairy stories? Why should they feel judged when they go into toyshops? Yes indeed. Why?

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Picture books and their value – and some useful websites and publications

KFP2

I was very lucky to attend the Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist announcement last week. The prize is for the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. These are the books in contention.

I’m a huge fan of picture books. They have an enormous role to play for children of all ages. Is there any better route into reading for pleasure? Surely there is no aspect of literacy they do not benefit. Picture books are great for building empathy, and for supporting every area of social and emotional development. They increase children’s knowledge and understanding of the world. They develop thinking skills. They stimulate curiosity, imagination and creativity.

I felt very privileged to write a guest blog ‘In praise of picture books’ for the wonderful charity Give a Book recently. It gave me the opportunity to try to encapsulate all they offer and think through good practice in using them. They are on my mind again now as I am in the midst of preparing a picture books training course. All this has made me realise it might be useful to list some online and printed resources about picture books that I find particularly valuable.

Lauren ChildAt the start of this I mentioned the shortlisting event last week. Lauren Child gave a delightful talk about her development as an illustrator. This is one of the pictures she shared. How lovely to discover that the wall here is a National Trust one. She photographed that beautiful sky in Hackney. And the plants? They were growing in a New York allotment.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Children’s reading news – a round-up of recent research and articles

mso98AE2There’s been lots of reading-related news recently. This is my latest round-up, illustrated with a delightful old family photo.

New research highlights an increasing vocabulary deficiency in UK schools.

A study shows that the benefits of reading aloud to children include behaviour and attention.

‘Three strategies to engage primary pupils in reading’ looks at the importance of peer reading, regular read-alouds and auditing school reading materials.

An American expert suggests that reading aloud is valuable in high school for breaking down equity barriers.

‘Why do children read more? The influence of reading ability on voluntary reading practices’ is well worth looking at.

‘Reading for pleasure: a different king of rigour’ explores primary class provision that makes a difference.

‘What teachers need to know about shared reading’ explores the benefits of shared reading in the early years and beyond.

‘The 9 essential components of a KS2 reading scheme’ is useful. I would add an attractive, well-stocked and well-promoted school library to the list.

‘Why are boys from low income families more likely to disengage with reading?’ suggests teachers’ stereotypes can affect boys’ engagement with reading.

Here are a school librarian’s top tips for inspiring pupils to read.

Finally, do take a looks at these two videos, the first about how Eileen Littlewood, headteacher at Forthview Primary School, built a reading culture at her school and the second on how shared reading can help younger readers (and the older ones too).

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!’