Tag archives: rhyme times

Monday, 7 November 2011

Visit to Oasis Children’s Centre

I am currently investigating good early years and family provision for some courses I am preparing for library, museum and gallery staff, and was invited to visit a story and play session at Oasis Children’s Centre in the London Borough of Enfield. What a wonderful time I had – and so most certainly did all the children and other adults who attended. The children ranged in age from under 18 months to just pre-school, and the morning was structured to appeal to them all, with lots of play, rhymes, music and books. David Pickering, pictured here with just one of his many props, had everyone enthralled. He has been doing weekly sessions at the Centre for three years, and is evidently a great favourite. He told me that his particular focus is on developing children’s language skills, though undoubtedly their social, emotional and creative skills also benefit enormously from his approach. He’s a dab hand on the ukulele. The session included a trip to the library of Oasis Academy next door to listen to some extra picture books. Both there and in the Centre, it was lovely to watch masses of very enthusiastic joining-in.

Many thanks to David, to Josie Layzell from Enfield Library Service, and to Kerry, Marie and everyone else at the Children’s Centre.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Class Ceiling

I have just caught up with this excellent radio programme about class and social mobility. The first of a series on the subject, it sets out to ask what can boost or block a child’s chances of breaking the ‘class ceiling’ at home, school and university.

The programme opens with an analysis of social mobility in the UK. Presenter and journalist Polly Toynbee questions whether she would have made it into her profession if she had not come from a family of writers and academics and been surrounded as a child by books and discussion. Middle class parents demonstrate how they are providing platforms for their children from the earliest age that will open doors: buying them stimulating toys, taking them to baby yoga classes and to rhyme times in libraries (great to hear these being publicly valued), later making sure they get a good education. We are left in no doubt about the importance of family background: a baby’s environment has a permanent effect on her or his growing brain; class differences are evident in levels of achievement at twenty-two months; the gap between the verbal skills of rich and poor children widens by 50% between their third and fifth birthdays; 77% of middle class children get five good GCSEs, while just 32% of working class students do.

Interventions can change things. Reading is mentioned as a game-changer a number of times. Two mothers talk movingly about the impact of the early years PEEP project on their parenting, and on their children’s confidence and abilities. Both single out the importance of sharing books with their children. Gavin Kelly, Education Adviser to the previous government, discusses the success of the Every Child a Reader programme, and laments its scrapping in many areas. David Willetts, who sits on the present government’s social mobility committee, tells us that children with high ability from low income families must never be written off, that interventions are relevant at every stage. However we also hear that not all interventions have the desired consequences: the opening up of university education has largely benefited the middle classes. Not exclusively though. Cockermouth School has an outstanding record of getting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into top universities as a result of intensive mentoring and individual guidance sessions. The possible effect on social mobility of the rise in university fees is left an open question.

Important listening.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The power of rhyme

What a treat to happen upon With Great Pleasure on Radio 4 this morning. The wonderful science writer Simon Singh shared some of his favourite pieces of literature. Actually, several of them would probably not usually merit the term literature, which is not to belittle his fabulous choices at all. I especially loved his lead-in to a parody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The original is apparently Singh’s toddler son’s number one nursery rhyme. Singh joked that he likes to think of it as an introduction to astronomy. While this is a rather unusual perspective on the value of nursery rhymes, there is plenty of evidence that they play an important part in children’s learning.

I am currently working up a course on library rhyme times, as a follow up to a training day on early years library provision. It has been great to visit some inspirational sessions and to talk to library staff and parents and carers to help me build up a complete picture of good policy and practice. One grandmother spoke to me in glowing terms about the impact rhyme and toddler times have had on her grandson. She praised their effect on his social and emotional development – they have made him much less shy – and was in no doubt about their contribution to his language development and general learning.

I have learnt a lot from my visits and discussions that will inform not only my early years and new rhyme time training, but also my courses on family learning and family literacy, and not just for library staff, but in museums and across the cultural and heritage sector generally. Very many thanks to Enfield Library Service in particular.